Noelle McAlinden-Becoming Undone: Seeking Wisdom in a Wasteland


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.