Artist gets to heart of Anatomy Department

One of the skeletons captured by Aideen during her residency at the NUIG Anatomy Department in Belmont House.
One of the skeletons captured by Aideen during her residency at the NUIG Anatomy Department in Belmont House.

Arts Week with Judy Murphy

The Anatomy Department of NUIG has played a long and vital role in the university’s history since Queens College first opened in 1849.

Belmont House, on campus, which has been home to the Anatomy Department for more than a century and a half, dates back even further. Originally a private residence owned by the Whalley family, it became part of Queen’s University in 1849.

Two years ago, when the Department was relocating to a new, state-of-the-art premises on campus, the current Anatomy Professor Peter Dockery was keen to have an artist record the building for posterity.

That person was Athenry artist Aideen Monaghan, a Fine Art graduate of Limerick School of Art and Design, with teaching diploma from NUIG. In May 2016, she began a residency there, facilitated and funded by NUIG’s Arts Office, for which she visited the Department regularly over a 12-month period.

“When people heard what I’d been asked to do, some of them said ‘Oh, you’re going to the dead house’, because that’s what it was known as. But it was more about life and living. . . how fascinating biology and the art of living is,” Aideen observes, ahead of an exhibition based on her residency.

Belmont House will open at the NUIG Art Gallery on the campus’s Quadrangle this Friday evening and will run until Friday, October 26.

“The same lecture hall has been in use since 1846, so people had mixed feelings about moving out,” she says of the Anatomy Department’s relocation.

Aideen had no idea what to expect before she became involved at Belmont House, but was intrigued by the place, especially that historic lecture hall.

“When people described it to me, I thought it would be like Hogwarts,” she says, referring to the fictional school in Harry Potter. “But it was quite a functional room as well.”

That “push and pull between history and function” fascinated her.

“The building is historical, but it had to function as an Anatomy Department, she explains, describing a trapdoor which opened up so that cadavers could be raised into the lecture hall. The desks meanwhile were adorned with graffiti, the work of students from decades previously.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.

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