28 - 31 OCT 2021

This body of work was created during O’Donnell’s residency at Anderson Contemporary over the past two years. It presents ‘contemporary history painting’ in order to make visible feminist interpretations of 20th-century Irish women’s history. The paintings use archival material as a starting point which stands in as a sign of the accepted documents of history. Properties of the photograph are mimicked such as framing and cut-off compositions as well as tone and contrast. This creates a scaffold that provides an initial sense of coherence which is then disrupted by painting strategies that include adding or subtracting elements, manipulating scale and colour, incorporating the use of cut-outs, creating multiples and colour maps. 

A feminist methodology is used to present a redress to historical omissions and misreadings alongside semi-fictional or ‘what if?’ contemplations of history. Deliberately manipulated narratives are combined with painting strategies that aim to present the very constructed nature of history. The social construction of gender difference is also considered and nowhere is this more apparent in 20th century Ireland than in the Constitution which calls out a woman’s role as a mother and homemaker. Women were legally excluded from many jobs, especially high profile positions and prevented from having bodily or financial autonomy whilst all the time providing a home environment that met the needs and pleasures of the working man. These works seek to critique this hegemonic notion by presenting groundbreaking professional women.

Diagrammatic strategies have been used to develop the work beyond the confines of representation wrapped up in the original source photograph and offers a way to deal with the non-representational elements such as the subjective construction of greatness and the experience and sensations presented by the encounter with the paintings.

The social history project ‘Herstory Ireland’ was used as an initial resource and this exhibition presents the narratives of two of the women selected;  Sheila Tinney (1918-2010) and Jocelyn Bell Burnell (b.1943). Sheila Tinney was the first Irish woman to receive a PhD in mathematics and in 1941 she was the first woman admitted to the Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies. In 1948 she was awarded a fellowship to go to the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton where she worked alongside Albert Einstein. She taught at University College Dublin from 1941 until her retirement in 1978, however despite a very successful teaching, publishing and research track record she was only promoted to professor in 1966.

Jocelyn Bell Burnell is an astrophysicist who as a research student at Cambridge in 1967 discovered a new kind of star called a pulsar, she fought to have it considered by her supervisors who initially dismissed it as an anomaly in the data. Her supervisors’ both of whom were men, were awarded the 1974 Nobel Prize in Physics for the discovery. She went on to have a very successful academic and research career and in 2018 was belatedly awarded the Special Breakthrough Prize in Fundamental Physics for her pulsars discovery. She donated the £2.3 million prize money to the Institute of Physics to fund female, minority, and refugee students seeking to become physics researchers.


Lisa O'Donnell b.1986 is an Irish artist based in London. She is currently a PhD candidate at the Royal College of Art and completed her MA Fine Art at Central Saint Martins, London (2013) and BA Fine Art at Centre for Creative Arts and Media, Ireland (2010). Solo exhibitions include 'Stranded' at the House of Saint Barnabas, London (2019) and 'Models For Movers' at New York University (2015). Selected group exhibitions include ‘Every Woman Biennial’, Copeland Gallery, London (2021), ‘2084’, Dyson Gallery, London (2020), ‘Lass Struggle’, University College London (2017), ‘#Working’, Kathryn Markel Gallery, New York, (2015) and ‘Make The Eighties The Decade Of Endeavour’, KTcontemporary, Dublin (2012).