Enniscorthy Guardian - - NEWS - By ANNA HAYES

A WEX­FORD artist, whose first solo ex­hi­bi­tion opens at Wex­ford Arts Cen­tre this week­end, is tack­ling the topic of male men­tal health and sui­cide through his new body of work.

Shane Keeling’s show ‘Bad­Man Oh Man’ opens on Satur­day in as­so­ci­a­tion with First Fort­night and Wex­ford Arts Cen­tre. First Fort­night is a char­ity that chal­lenges men­tal health prej­u­dice through art and cul­tural events.

Shane grad­u­ated from the Na­tional Col­lege of Art and De­sign last year and was im­me­di­ately asked if he would be in­ter­ested in work­ing with First Fort­night.

‘I jumped at the op­por­tu­nity as it is ex­actly the kind of av­enue I wanted to go down. I can con­tinue to make art that I am pas­sion­ate about while also be­ing a spokesper­son for men­tal health.’

Shane started work­ing on the ex­hi­bi­tion over a year ago and said it had ini­tially in­tended to glo­rify mas­culin­ity. ‘But once I started re­search­ing what it means to be a man in modern-day Ire­land, I came across some pretty hor­rific statis­tics.’

Read­ing about Ire­land’s sui­cide rates for peo­ple aged 19 to 24, he learned that men in his own age de­mo­graphic were three times more likely than any other to die by sui­cide.

Shane said: ‘This forced me to crit­i­cally an­a­lyse my­self and the en­vi­ron­ment that I grew up in, in an at­tempt to un­der­stand why these statis­tics ex­ist. I went to school in an all-boys sec­ondary school in En­nis­cor­thy. So­cial sta­tus was de­fined by how many girls you’ve slept with, how cool your car was, how good you were at sport and how handy you were in a scrap. Any one who had in­ter­ests out­side of this was ridiculed, bul­lied and made to feel in­ad­e­quate.’

He felt that young Ir­ish men did not al­low each other to dis­play emo­tions be­yond those of ag­gres­sion and man­li­ness, and any­one who did was la­belled ‘soft’ and emas­cu­lated.

‘This toxic ‘lad cul­ture’ stops young men from be­ing able to openly ex­press their true emo­tions to even their clos­est friends for fear of be­ing ex­iled from their group.’

Shane feels that this, com­bined with trau­matic child­hood ex­pe­ri­ences, the loss of a loved one or im­por­tant re­la­tion­ship, and Ire­land’s ever grow­ing drug and al­co­hol prob­lems, cre­ates a deadly cock­tail that makes men feel as though there is no hope out­side of sui­cide.

He also ac­knowl­edges that he was and, to some ex­tent, re­mains part of that cul­ture, as he re­tains some of the traits in­her­ited from be­ing part of that en­vi­ron­ment.

He said: ‘I spend most of my days look­ing at foot­ball and watch­ing videos of lads box­ing the heads off each other on YouTube. I still find my­self be­ing drawn to groups that are male dom­i­nated and hav­ing misog­y­nis­tic thoughts that were drilled into me as a teenager by my peers. The dif­fer­ence is now I see the er­ror in my thought process. I can catch them when they are in full swing and I can change the way my brain works. It has helped me be­come a more com­pas­sion­ate, em­pathic and hap­pier hu­man be­ing.’

He hopes that by ad­dress­ing the is­sue from within that he will give young men of his age the courage to call for change.

‘This way, we can have a so­ci­ety of com­pas­sion­ate young men who aren’t afraid to be their true selves and speak their true emo­tions with­out fear.’

‘Bad­Man Oh Man’ is Shane’s first solo ex­hi­bi­tion but his work has fea­tured in sev­eral mag­a­zines in­clud­ing IM­AGE mag­a­zine and ‘Ce­ramic Ire­land’. His work has been dis­played in many gal­leries.

He works in all av­enues of artis­tic ex­pres­sion in­clud­ing paint­ing, sculp­ture and per­for­mance but ce­ramic is his pre­ferred ma­te­rial.

Artist Shane Keeling (left) and some of his work on dis­play at Wex­ford Arts Cen­tre from Satur­day.

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