We had the immense honour of welcoming President Michael D. Higgins and his wife Sabina to the gallery last night for the opening of John Behan’s solo show 'The Seven Ages of Man'. The exhibition was formally opened by the artist Mick O'Dea PPRHA, who, rather aptly, had painted the official State portrait of President Higgins two years ago which now hangs in Leinster House in Dublin.
A long time friend of artist John Behan, the President was particularly interested in seeing this exhibition as it features a new series of bronzes dealing with the shocking migrant crisis in the Mediterranean. Last year President Higgins requested to visit Camp Eleonas in Athens during his state visit to Greece and there he personally met with many migrants who had escaped warfare and famine from countries as diverse as Iraq, Syria and sub-Saharan Africa. A few months later John Behan travelled to the same camp and through the auspices of the Irish Embassy, delivered art workshops to adults and children and learned more about the horrific journeys that families had to make to reach relative safety. This new exhibition of thirty works in bronze includes several sculptures of RIBs and boats packed with fleeing migrants, a stark image of the soldier carrying the lifeless body of Alan Kurdi who was found drowned on a Greek beach and a bronze entitled 'The Embrace' which depicts President Higgins hugging a disabled migrant refugee in Eleonas. To view RTE television footage of President Higgins's visit to Eleonas, click here: https://www.rte.ie/news/2018/0224/943178-higgins/
John Behan compares the current situation in the Mediterranean to the Irish Famine, where the suffering and emigration was of equally epic proportions and many thousands perished at sea. Speaking recently to a Greek reporter, Behan said “I believe that artists have a contribution to make in focusing attention on the plight of modern migration by bringing public awareness to bear on the situation,” he said. “Remembering Picasso’s great painting of Guernica, now in Madrid, we must bring a modern equivalent expression to foster a public action to change attitudes, and to relieve the incredible suffering of millions of vulnerable people.”
Other guests at the opening night included actors Stephen Rea and Stephen Brennan, writer Marie Heaney and artists Leo Higgins, John Kelly, James Hanley, Orla de Bri and Jacqueline Stanley.