Donna Troy Cleary's approach to art is through the lens of caregiver and the traditionally female roles she has embodied during her life - Artist, Mother, Nurse and now Herbalist. A descendent of Irish Herbalists, Donna reclaims knowledge scrubbed from her familial consciousness. Her sculptures reflect on the ways of the ancient Irish Healer, Wise Woman, Shaman, "Witch".
Delving deep into research mode, Donna trained as an Herbalist for 3 years and launched Spiral Herbal Remedies in 2017, an organic alternative to Big Pharma and Big Brands. Embodying this historically significant woman, she reclaims a powerful position in the community - a realm of the feminine once passed from mother to daughter. In 18th century Ireland, Herbalism was erased when it became illegal for native Irish to have a profession, be educated, speak their own language under British occupancy. Simultaneously, in Western Europe, herbalists and other financially and politically autonomous women were labeled witches and burned at the stake. The timing of this politically charged reclamation is significant and critical.
Donna's newest Hybrid sculptures are an embodiment of ideas generated through her Herbalism practice. They represent the collaborative/mutualistic, dynamic system that exists between humans and microorganisms that live in and on our bodies - our Microbiome. An extension of that system includes the plants used in her healing practice.
Taking a broad look at our relationship to the planet, Donna combines labor intensive, hand made forms with found objects, stuffing her body-like sculptures with upcycled plastic packaging to reflect on a moment in time when microplastics have fully integrated into our food chain and bodies.
Other sculptures celebrate fertility and the generative power of the maternal. Donna is the mother of two, but fertility is not just about human reproduction, it represents the cyclical nature of the landscape, health/illness, life/death, the necessity of balance between male and female and abundance. Yarn conjures thoughts of the warmth and the protection of home, inviting touch. This reflex brings people in close, where a surprise is revealed - internalized plastic. The sculptures are stuffed with plastic packaging and bags collected from vendors in the marketplace where her shop is located. The plastic is visible through the gaps in the crochet.
Donna also runs 184 Project Space - a curatorial platform in her domestic space. Exhibitions, dinners, visits by collectors build community while providing opportunities for artists and curators alike.
Donna uses performance to express some of her ideas. Her ceremonial objects and sculptures stem from contemporary and 1950's-era domestic paraphernalia, commingling the Feminine Mystique with Pagan Goddess Symbolism in a culture of planned obsolescence.
Donna’s cultural anthropological investigations restore and affirm the inherent power of the unseen labor of the domestic space. Perceived boundaries between instinct and cultural construct are questioned as her work hovers between the physical and psychological, past and present, metaphysical and “real”.
Humor and tactility are an integral part in this work. It is a way around opposition, sneaking knowledge and wisdom in through a back door, without threat. Often it is through touch that humor hits home. When encountering this work, it is tempting to squeeze. When permission is granted, suggestions of the body, giddy childhood humor and desire collide.