“My first memories are of the barbed wire at the end of our street.”
Memories are very important to Deirdre Mackel. In honour of International Women's Day, we sat down with the Belfast artist and Deliveroo cyclist to chat with her about art, feminism, cycling and everything in-between.
“My art is inspired by the little memories I have of childhood. They’re symbolic, but not overtly so,"she says of her art.
“I get the memory and I go with my trail of thought and see what comes out of it.”
What comes out of the past has a lot to say about the future. Several of Deirdre's works tackle the construction of femininity and break down what exactly it means to be a woman in today's society.
"I did an ironing board sculpture and it really represented the futility of domesticity. Why do we bother ironing? Why are we wasting our lives doing the same thing day after day?"
An image that Deirdre keeps returning to are dresses. For her, they have a personal meaning as well as feminist one.
"I remember drawing myself on the back of a wedding invitation when I was about three. I was curious about it so I tracked down that same paper online. I didn't realise that they were the colours that I always used in my painting."
Dresses are not only a source of memory for Deirdre, but they also represent something deeper.
“For me, dresses represent conformity and non-conformity. They’re the christening gown, the communion dress and the wedding dress. They represent what’s expected of a nice, Catholic girl.”
After studying Fine Art in The University of Ulster, Deirdre now brings art and creative projects to Belfast's local communities. She's passionate about finding healing through art. A recent instillation finds beauty in barbed wire.
"That was my childhood. There was barbed wire at the end of our street, that was my play-ground growing up. That's why I call these instillations accidental gardens. It's all about finding those tiny spots of beauty."
She works with community groups bringing out creativity in everyone from children to elderly groups.
“One of my favourite things is creating art in what are known as ‘problem spaces’. These are places that have a lot of bad feelings and memories attached to them.”
One such problem space was an old RUC police barracks. With Deirdre's help and encouragement, a seniors group used their croqueting skills, tuning a place that many of them had loathed and feared into a colourful knitted garden.
"Seeing them have a tea party in the garden surrounded by their work- that's the kind of thing that drives me."
Historically, certain communities in Belfast suffered real or perceived barriers accessing art galleries. With the help of EU funding, Deirdre is breaking down these barriers.
"You only have to look at the giant murals on the Falls road to know that the creative instinct was always there. They’re phenomenal works of art, now we have tourists come just to visit them.
“Twenty years ago, there was a distinct lack of place for the arts and creative activities. Now a lot of the community art projects are funded by the EU. We’re working with artists to create public art trails around the city. It’s all about turning the physical scars of the conflict into something people can feel proud of and have ownership of.
“It greatly contributes to the health and wellbeing of people in the community, being about to claim ownership of a sculpture or a piece of art is a powerful thing. It’s one of the reasons why I’m so passionate about art in the community.”
As well as looking out for the community, Deirdre also takes care of her own health and wellbeing and makes some extra cash dollar at the same time.
“I've always loved cycling. I remember seeing lads on Deliveroo bikes and thinking that that was something I’d like to do.
“I saw an ad not long after, so I just decided to go for it.”
Being out on the bike is a fantastic way to keep fit, after her first day she "couldn't move for days" but now takes it all in her stride, or spin if you will.
While there are good and bad days on the bike, the positives far outweigh the negatives of the job.
“Some days it can be freezing for you can get soaked. I’ve fallen off my bike once or twice but the great thing is you just hop back up and keep going.
“I really enjoy it, I get to see parts of the city that I never would otherwise and have made some great friends for all different kinds of backgrounds.”
Most of Deirdre's co-cyclists are men, which "surprised" her.
"I definitely think that it's a great job for both men and women. You get out and about in air, there's just so many advantages.
"Or maybe I'm just mad," she laughs.
Her advice for any aspiring creative types out there? Just go for it.
“If you want to do something, all you need is to want to do it. There’s just this switch that decides ‘right, I’m going for this now’. Listen to it."
An artist with a spinning ambition, Deirdre is definitely one to watch this International Women's Day!
To find out more about becoming a Deliveroo driver see here.