Becoming Undone: Dignity in Despair

Artist: Noelle McAlinden

Medium: Painting

The overall title of my work for this exhibition is Becoming Undone: The Road to De-Mask-Us (Damascus). The title is a play on words during a period of chaos, constraint and loss, a period of reflection and movement towards enlightenment. Not just a reference to COVID 19 restrictions, but those times where human rights have been challenged. where the ‘masks’ we wear are to protect us from ourselves as well as each other. For some the mask is a protector, for others a violator of human rights.
The masks represent faces like eroded landscapes, paired back, scarred by life’s circumstances, worn down, disintegrated with time, bearing scars of disconnected trials and tribulations – where they appear to be tethered, restrained, and slowly becoming undone. The Becoming Undone series refers to an artist bearing witness during a time of restraint, reflection and introspection, a period of ‘in to me see’ (intimacy).

Like lockdown, we hide within our own environs, some imprisoned in their own cells, behind masks of our own making, entrapped. Some are paralysed by fear and uncertainty, some are fearful of the very thought of re-emerging from isolation, where there are feelings of loss, guilt, brokenness and experiences gained, distinguished, and extinguished.  Isolated in a ‘no man’s / no woman’s…a nomads land…migrating without purpose, perhaps perched on the periphery of a new dawn…in becoming undone’.

The work is presented and interpreted for the project State of the Art: The Nation State as both Violator and Protector, presented by the Smashing Times International Centre for the Arts and Equality and  includes a series of oil paintings and mixed media sculptures in the form of masks. The paintings celebrate the essence of the female form – vulnerable, brave, dignified and resilient in the face of adversity. The State of the Art collaboration with fellow artists in Smashing Times has provided much fertile ground for research. It has encouraged myself as an artist  to continue to dwell and delve deep into the chaotic world we live in and to explore the importance of celebrating and articulating the role of women and the artist as both a catalyst and alchemist. The themes of the evolving space between us across genders, culturally, physically, emotionally as well as spiritually,  has influenced my response as an artist to Human Rights. The artist palette used in  the paintings and mixed media masks are deliberately chosen – emotive, expressive, serene, and surreal.

The fragile and emotional states of mind continue to be a source of inspiration. Intrigued by the theme ‘Becoming Undone’, I am reviewing the importance of our human rights and emotional states and the landscape we inhabit. We have witnessed on a personal and an international scale, experiences of displacement, in a fragile, fractured world where human rights for some are protected and for others, are violated. The fragility of the human condition for this exhibition is portrayed by exploring the female form, a vessel of memories, life experiences, lost and finding, on voyages of emotional reflection, brokenness, recovery and discovery and in some cases becoming undone, breaking free and embracing a journey towards enlightenment.
The female form here is seen as a vessel that has carried generations, in some cases scarred for life, fragile, fractured and displaced, but emerging as brave and resilient. Migrating across inscapes – emotional landscapes. The human body and face becoming an evolving landscape of fragile lands in fragile states.

My interests as an artist are women’s rights, environmental issues, and plate tectonics, where fault lines are metaphors for scars deep within the human spirit, and are apparent as we face losses and gains during periods of trauma, transition, guilt, and retribution. Figures at first seem serene, disconnected, in neither land or sea, in a fluid emotional sense of displacement for the discerning eye, devoid of connection, suspended from family, friends and community.

Life is, for some, a test and a battle of endurance and resilience where compassion and empathy, not pity, for self and others, are pivotal in not just surviving but thriving, even in the face of adversity. ‘Becoming Undone’ is preparation for a state of independence, perhaps denial, retreat, and resting, perching precariously on the periphery of the unknown, perhaps before preparation for flight and real independence.


Noelle Mc Alinden is a practicing artist exhibiting locally, regionally and internationally, with work in public and private collections across the UK, Europe, US and Canada. Noelle also works as a creative adviser, curator, arts educator, a former Head of Art and Design in a post-primary school and Senior Lecturer for Arts at Fermanagh College of Further Education. She teaches across a range of sectors including, primary, post primary, university and the prison Sector, and was an international artist in residence in University of Transylvania, Lexington, Kentucky as part of The Governors School of Art.

As an arts activist for almost 39 years, Noelle has worked across statutory and voluntary Youth and Community sectors. She is passionate about all artforms promoting visual and performing arts, moving image, film and digital literacy. She was Chair of Creative Youth Partnerships and served as Chair of The Forum for Local Government and the Arts. She is an active advocate for the arts supporting the development of artists and creatives promoting collaborative and strategic partnerships locally, regionally and internationally.

Noelle’s work varies in size, scale, subject matter and treatment, from large-scale oil paintings to small mixed media pieces on canvas. The work is vibrant in colour and texture that appeal strongly to the eye with work consisting of an extraordinarily vivid panorama of colour, light and imagery, abstract and semi representational. The work to date has evolved from the figurative/narrative tradition. The choice of subject matter and treatment of it has evolved in a logical development from previous solo exhibitions, Waterways of the mind, Out of the Blue, Eve–olution, Precious Cargo and Emotional Landscape.  

Abstract works are inspired by experiments with colour, texture, light and semi animated marks, traces of life that somehow continue to be figurative. The paintings in oils and acrylics cover surfaces and canvasses that have been distorted, distressed, layered with texture and colour, with fragments that have been constructed and deconstructed exposing colour beneath the surface.


Inspiration is drawn from who the artist is and where she has come from and where she is now, both the physical world the artist lives in and the private world within her that carries the precious cargo of the past and all its diverse, dynamic and evolving happenings, the magic of gained knowledge and personal insight. An Artist who has mined deeper with age, where with a love of emotive colour, scorched canvasses emerge, where blue tones and strong exotic tones collide, where inspiration is sought in everything and every experience, and where the artist paints large-scale as well as small, and welcomes the happy accident.

Noelle says “My work has evolved, it comes from my life, my soul, experiences, memory and imagination. Shaped, nourished by events and accidental happenings, family, friendship and a sense of place.”

Noelle is passionate about the power of the arts to transform communities, supporting Cultural Tourism, Economic Regeneration, Health and Wellbeing and Peace and Reconciliation. Noelle has taken early retirement from The Education Authority in Northern Ireland  and was formally involved in Derry  City of Culture and Derry Learning City. Noelle is involved in a number of Arts and Cultural Organisations and is  ambassador for the celebration of life and prevention of suicide with an all Island group of volunteers and is on the board of the Northern Ireland Arts and Mental Health Festival. Noelle works  for  Smashing Times, a Dublin based organisation doing stunning work across Arts, Health and education, the artistic Director is Mary Moynihan and Sabina Higgins is a key Patron. 

Noelle is a former Board Member of the Arts Council of Northern Ireland  and a  former Adviser for the Education Authority of Northern Ireland, a former member of Unlocking Creativity, a Government Strategy for Northern Ireland working with the late Sir Ken Robinson. Noelle is a  member of the Hope, Healthy Eating  and Growth steering group with the Aisling Centre Enniskillen, a Board Member of Northern Ireland Arts Mental Health Festival and a Creative Adviser for the Pushkin Trust.