The Gallery of Photography in association with Dublin City Council and Trinity College Dublin hosted ‘Perceived Irishness’ a photographic exhibition and exploration of identity by Yaqoub Jemil BouAynaya. Yaqoub spoke to Yeah Magazine about his sociology work related to Irishness some time ago, and we stayed in touch. His work on Irishness was part multimedia project, part PhD.

20171102_142321Yaqoub discussed last year how the Irish might perceive themselves from a racial perspective. With subjects of diverse backgrounds, each of them capable of claiming Irishness, he wants to move beyond the sociological aspects of his work and into arts and culture. He wanted to move beyond his sociology work and into arts and culture.

20171102_142616There’s an implication that the photography exhibition might work in tandem with academic research. Today, the freedoms associated with art are not as restrictive as those found in the Liberal Arts.

Academics are in the main progressive, the field of sociology particularly so, but the last year has seen a rise in conservative voices among student and faculty populations, and conflict and protest on North American campuses over the presence of guest speakers and lecturers related to their views on race and gender fluidity. The recent controversies at UCD’s Student Union and whether it would back a referendum related to women’s health is another case in point.

Perhaps it is through art – a less confined and restrictive medium than even the sociology of today’s third-level institutions – that more cogent and progressive arguments can be had about racial bias, and thoughts provoked about assumptions of nationality, in Irish culture.

The appeal of photography for Yaqoub, especially photojournalism, is the unspoken word. You can check out his web presence at and on Facebook.

The exhibit itself included footage comprising twenty minutes of photography interspersed with interviewees discussing their heritage. The participants in this sociological aspect of BouAynaya’s multimedia experiment detailed their Irishness through the prism of their immediate background. Though accents or birthplace may differ, it’s clear many people who claim Irish heritage are as Irish as those born on the island or indeed the Republic.

It would be fair to say that people born to Irish parents who live overseas, for example, may have spent decades in Ireland but feel a sense of displacement or difficulty in claiming Ireland as home even though they want to – and this is made more problematic when their Irish peers don’t see them as quite as Irish as themselves.

One criticism of the black-and-white exhibit pieces was that there was not enough of BouAynaya’s photography. The space was put to good use, but it was minimalistic by virtue of its size. Much of the photography was face-to-camera portraiture, confined to three sides of the space. Other street scenes featured in other sections of the gallery. The multimedia presentation rolled throughout, off the main space, in a room with a projector.

Take a look at more of Yaqoub’s photography work at