RDS Visual Art Awards 2021 | RHA Gallery


RDS Visual Art Awards 2021 | RHA Gallery Date/Time
Date(s) - 25/11/2021 - 19/12/2021

RHA Gallery






RDS Visual Art Award Exhibition 2021 at the RHA Gallery – 25 November – 19 December: https://www.rds.ie/rds-foundation/arts/vaa


Bright Futures at the RDS – Supporting Graduating Irish Artists and guiding them into a professional world:


The RDS Visual Art Awards is the most important platform for visual art graduates in Ireland. It provides a curated exhibition opportunity and a significant prize fund of over €30,000, as well as vital exposure for emerging visual artists as they move into early professional practice. This year the Awards makes a bold move as the renowned annual exhibition moves to the RHA Gallery for the first extended showing of the RDS Visual Art Awards exhibition. Showcased, are some of the best BA & MA visual art graduates from all over Ireland who have gone through a highly competitive two-stage process to get their work into this coveted show, which this year is curated by artist Vera Klute. The 2021 exhibition runs from 25 November until 19 December.


A record 170 eligible applications were received for the Awards this year which was run via an open application system. The quality of this year’s applications was outstanding, and they are a real tribute to the professionalism and talent of the emerging artists coming into the visual arts sector this year. Each of the ten exhibiting artists will be in with the chance to win one of the five prizes on offer including: The RDS Taylor Art Award (10,000); R.C. Lewis Crosby Award (5,000); RDS Members’ Arts Fund Award (5,000); RHA Graduate Studio Award (7,500 – stipend of 2,500 supported by the RDS Members’ Art Fund); and finally the RDS Mason Hayes & Curran LLP Culturel Irlandais Residency Award, in Paris (5,000). Winners will be announced on the opening night of the show (24 November).


The 2021 RDS Visual Art Awards applications were reviewed by a team of six professional curators: Sheena Barrett, Valerie Byrne, Mary Cremin, Seán Kissane, Paul McAree and Sharon Murphy. Between them, they longlisted 53 graduates to move forward to the second stage of the competition.


A judging panel of five visual art professionals reviewed these longlisted applications and shortlisted 25 candidates before selecting the final 10 artists for inclusion in the exhibition. The show will be curated by Vera Klute and will take place in the RHA Gallery in Dublin. Vera Klute, Rachael Gilbourne, Clíodhna Shaffrey and Una Sealy are the members of the expert judging panel, which was chaired by RHA Director, Patrick T. Murphy.


Geraldine Ruane, RDS Chief Executive said The arts are a key component of the RDS Foundation Programme and its mission to contribute to the cultural and economic development of Ireland. The RDS Visual Art Awards has a total prize fund equivalent of €32,500 and continues a long-standing RDS tradition of supporting emerging Irish artistic talent. The prestigious RDS Taylor Art Award has been presented by the RDS since 1860 and is still one of the most important awards for emerging visual artists in Ireland today’.


Patrick T. Murphy, RHA Director & Chair of the RDS 2021 VAA Judging Panel added: One of the real excitements of the RDS Visual Arts Awards is that the exhibition is curated by an established artist. Vera Klute’s renown proceeds her, and as well as contributing to the final selection panel she will liaise with each of the selected participates to agree on the work to be shown, the logistics required for its display and how to configure the space to best accommodate and display the variety of work to be included. Having artists in this role creates a mentorship and connection that should advantage those involved for years to come.’


The RDS Visual Art Awards is a substantial and pivotal project that supports emerging professional artists in Ireland. It exists to support their work at this vitally important moment in their careers culminating in a three week showcase event at the RHA Gallery space. The exhibition enables the exhibiting artists to professionally present their work with an opportunity of winning one of five awards on offer.


2021 RDS Visual Art Awards exhibitors are:



Catherine graduated from TU Dublin this year with a first-class honour’s BA degree in Fine Art. She is presently undertaking an MFA in Art and Ecology at the Burren College of Art in Co. Clare.


Catherine’s work is concerned with perception and the different forms of knowledge which shape our understanding of landscape. She is interested in the blurring of barriers between science and art, to trigger positive change within local and global ecosystems. Situated between sculpture, film and installation, her practice probes the relationship between scientific and holistic understandings of natural systems. Her artworks often combine clay with film and sound to form multi-layered installations. The ambition of her practice is to uncover the layers of knowledge and perception through which we view the natural world.


How Far is a multidimensional installation employing sculpture, film and soundscape. This work views soil and earth as a creator of space, land and cultural significance. Catherine collects clay from eroding cliffs along the coast of county Wexford, which is filtered and dried before being formed and fired. The resulting sculptural objects are borne from scientific diagrams of minerals and chemical compounds found in marine clay. These pieces sit in mud, water, muslin and metal mesh, resting on recycled oil drums.



Finn graduated from the Limerick School of Art & Design this year with a first-class honours degree in Sculpture and Combined Media. His practice is a multi-disciplinary inquiry into storytelling and appraises the lived experience of the Anthropocene; an unofficial until of geological time used to describe the most recent period in Earth’s history when human activity started to have a significant impact on the planet’s climate and ecosystems.

The work in this exhibition is a clay and digital animation titled The Lonely Sea. This piece is a response to Covid-19 lockdown and its isolation. Devoid of interaction or connection, the characters on the screen live out choreographed loops of work and travel against the backdrop of an increasingly surreal world. Their fixed expressions betray only emotional catalepsy while the labour-intensive method used in the creation of the amination only serves to emphasizes repetition and labour. The music composition is influenced by luminaries such as Steve Reich and Laurie Anderson creating a psychedelic soundtrack to accompany the piece.




Fiona graduated from the Limerick School of Art & Design this year with a first-class honours degree in Fine Art, Sculpture and Combined Media. Her work explores excess, referencing fashion iconography, and the overwhelming number of images of the female body and surrounding ideologies that we absorb daily. Outlining her own version of female experience through video and digital processes, Fiona flips the restricted, minimized idea of femininity on its head and embraces the surreal and the bizarre.

EXCESSIVELY CHAOTIC UTOPIAN ESCAPE is an ambitious screen-based work which takes the form of a website. The piece is both sophisticated and playful in its critique of consumerism and stereotyping as well as capturing the all-consuming online and screen-based existence. The use of lo fi and popular culture creates a bubble gum aesthetic.


Fiona’s films and personas explore the chasm between women’s interior voice and expectations of exterior perfection. They challenge the messy woman trope. Her ‘stay-at-home hun’ persona questions modern femininity and approaches femaleness in a more chaotic, absurd and bizarre way. This performative personality was created to explore desires of escapism, the problematics of the domestic goddess and femininity in confinement. She uses her image to access and engage with the outside world. Creating masquerades through dress, acts as an outlet whilst challenging the complexities around playing with femininity and the notion of being excessive or ‘extra’.




Juliette graduated from the National College of Art & Design this year with a BA in Fine Art (Paint) and Education.  She uses autoethnography as her primary form of research. This involves using self-reflection and photography to explore anecdotal and personal experience, which is then connected back to wider cultural, political, and social meanings and understandings.

Working primarily in paint, Juliette usually bases the composition of her paintings on old magazine covers, records, posters and classical paintings, changing the subject matter to relate to an event that has happened in her life. Common themes in her work include classical music, paintings, pop culture, and tongue-in-cheek humour. She paints on a range of surfaces including stretched paper, canvas and wood. Her work is a means of transforming these commercial images into a fine art.

Juliette is also interested in performance and has created performative public interventions on the Luas Green Line, Portobello and outside the Central Bank on Dame Street. A musical performance video entitled Quarantine Classics is included in this exhibition, where Juliette plays all her favourite pieces from lockdown.




Karolina graduated from IADT Dún Laoghaire this year with a first-class honours degree in Art specialising in moving image, performance art and photography. Her practice is based around the mediums of performance art and film, with her work often crudely depicting human connection in a modern alienated society. Karolina has just started a year-long internship through the Erasmus + program where she will work as a filmmaker and photographer for dance company Siberia Danza in Barcelona.


I’m Selling Myself is a body of work comprising of nine short films and performances, four of which are included in this exhibition. They deal with emotional labour and the marketisation of felt experience. The work offers a topical social critique around the ethics of labour structures in the customer service industry and dramatizes the frustrations and hopes of the service worker. The work operates between the personal and the political where individuality and sense of self is sublimated into the needs of the service industry and its capitalist agenda to depict human (dis)connection in a modern, alienated society. The customer service industry constantly expects ‘service with a smile’. Employees must perform the role of someone at peace with the world while often being paid below the living wage. Such structures have led to increased feelings of detachment.




Lauren Conway graduated from IADT Dún Laoghaire with a first-class honours degree in Art. She was awarded a DLR Emerging Artist Bursary, and the Dock IADT graduate award which includes an upcoming group exhibition at the Dock, Carrick-On-Shannon in January 2022. In October this year she presented her first solo exhibition Karen at Ormond Art Studios. She is due to undertake an internship in January 2022 at PUBLICS in Helsinki supported by Erasmus+. PUBLICS is a curatorial agency with a dedicated library, event space, and reading room in Helsinki, known for its industrial working-class histories and more recently, for its influx of divergent artistic and academic communities.

This body of work, entitled A Great Public Meeting, comprises of a series of drawings that explores empty educational spaces and questions aspirational promises put forward by the state through formal education. Using archival materials, documentation from site visits and found images from her teenage years, Lauren explores tensions between the empty school sites and the dense, awkward dancefloors of teenage discos. In one place, there is restriction and conformity, in the other, freedom and connectivity albeit the narrow version presented within popular media. The core question posed is how to be a teenager in these spaces and how to resolve the tensions and polarities between them.



Orla Kelly graduated from the National College of Art & Design with a joint first-class honours degree in Textiles Art & Artefact with Critical Cultures. Her current artistic practice is based on storytelling, primarily using textile processes. This body of work uses tufting to create textile sculptures. Orla is interested in juxtaposing the qualities of textiles considered as soft, delicate, and often fragile with the narrative of her work which deals with the normalisation of violence against women in popular culture and media.

The inspiration for this work, As Much As I Wouldn’t Like To, comes from a childhood memory, evoked during a conversation with the artist’s brother, of her parents covering their eyes during explicit scenes in movies. Taking this as a starting point, Orla’s research led to a detailed consideration of specific scenes set against a broader research into the normalisation of violence against women in popular culture and media, where the dominant, aggressive male is romanticised, and male sexual desire is prioritised. The focus of this work is on unwanted interactions that come from a place of unjust entitlement and desire. Interactions that embody starkly opposing emotions. The work is deceptively playful, and the figures are direct depictions of moments of unwelcome touch. These moments lure the viewer by using colours and textures that seduce and tempt whilst simultaneously contradicting their appearance with the narrative they create.

By recreating glamourized moments from the context of a movie, tv show or music video, her work confronts and provokes a response that is not easily ignored. One cannot be a passive viewer.




Rachel Daly graduated from MTU Crawford College of Art & Design with a first-class honours degree in Fine Art. She has won several awards this year, including the MTU Registrar’s Exhibition Award, the Lismore Castle Art Graduate Award and a six-month residency in the National Sculpture Factory in Cork.

Rachel’s work, entitled Till We Part, features large-scale photographic works, music and installation components. It is an exploration of discomfort and artificiality within domestic space. Our interior lives are rooted to the spaces we live in, linking place with private psychologies of desire and anxiety. Challenging the traditional idea of home as a secure space, her work ruptures this aspiration and shows that there can be more beneath the surface image. The things that console us and the ones we find unsettling often have the same origins. The home can slide from a comfort zone to a site of disquiet.

Her practice includes digital and analogue photography, film, music and installation. Through bodily gesture, her constructed images depict intimate scenes of figures teetering on the verge of dysfunctional moments. Through the combined elements of installation, she plays with the perceptions of the viewer in dislocating domestic space. The viewer is not provided with a full narrative but is instead presented with visual and transient fragments.



Roibí O Rua graduated from the Limerick School of Art & Design with a first-class honours degree in Sculpture and Combined Media.


Roibí is a multimedia artist, utilising music, video, animation, and digital media to explore ideas of queerness as it exists within Generation Z. Roibí occupies the space between popstar and fine artist, while referring to their own experiences as a ‘Transfemme’. The work explores ideas of identity through the idea of the self as a digital persona. Roibí considers digital space as a means of socialisation and the development and expansion of subcultures.


The work in this exhibition entitled DigiTran is an expression of how cyberspace is used by transgender Gen Z individuals as a sandbox for their identities. This work is realised as an album that is hosted online with eight tracks, paying homage to the queer sounds of Disco, NY Ballroom and 90’s House Music, while also drawing from internet subcultures such as Vaporwave, Seapunk, and Hyperpop.  The website is a visual representation of the work with texts that address the digitrans experience of Gen Z.  Roibí makes work that accurately represents their generation’s feel and aesthetic, by the queer, for the queer.



Vanessa Jones graduated from the National College of Art & Design this year with a first-class honours Master of Fine Art degree. She completed her undergraduate BA in Fine Art and Art History at George Washington University in the USA in 2003, where she received the Presidential Art Scholarship. She was awarded the Elizabeth Greenshields Foundation Award in 2019 and 2021.

Vanessa is a figurative painter whose practice explores feminine themes using self-portraiture. Working representationally in oils using traditional techniques, she employs the history of Western painting alongside medieval and primordial symbolic associations to engage the viewer with the concepts of myth, beauty, replication and duality as they relate to the feminine archetype. Her personas inhabit familiar yet unknown landscapes that are embedded in cultural symbolism, and her self-portraits conflate Western and Eastern cultures to reflect her own Western identity integrated with a rich Eastern family heritage.

Her paintings have both a familiarity and a strangeness.  She can shapeshift through time and space, and ultimately, see paradoxical ideas that exist within herself and the world at large.



Since its inception in 1731, the RDS has been dedicated to a mission to see Ireland thrive culturally and economically. The RDS Foundation is the way the RDS realises that mission today. For 290 years the RDS has responded to the needs and priorities of Ireland, addressing gaps in the development of our culture and economy and have helped shape the country. The RDS is focused on a long-term vision for Ireland and five key areas underpin its work: agriculture, the arts, enterprise, equestrianism and science. The RDS harnesses people’s energy and ideas, identifying the needs within each area and bringing momentum and scale to fulfil those needs. Through this, the organisation helps to develop and nurture long-lasting positive impact in Irish society.


The RDS has a proud history of supporting the arts and was central to the establishment of several of our national cultural institutions. The RDS Arts Programme today provides significant financial support, as well as performance, studio, residency and exhibition opportunities to artists starting out in their professional careers in the areas of visual art, craft and classical music.




FURTHER INFO at: https://www.rds.ie/rds-foundation/arts/vaa

FACEBOOK: @rdsdublin


INSTAGRAM: @rdsdublin

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