Gerry Balfe Smyth’s first solo exhibition Last Breath is a series of photograph’s documenting life in the south inner-city flats complex of St. Teresa’s Garden’s in Dublin’s Liberties area. The pictures are inspired by the spirit and resolve of the people in this once massive public housing project built in the 1950’s, a development that was neglected for generations.
In the mid 1980s in south inner Dublin the heroin epidemic was at it’s height, and the St Theresa’s Gardens flats complex was one of many deprived communities in Dublin that was flooded with heroin. Drug dealers were operating on a level that had not been seen before, the police and government bodies were not equipped to contain the situation. Many young lives were wiped out through addiction, their families torn apart and with little or no support from the state. Over time the residents fought back and the Concerned Parents against Drugs group did a lot to reclaim their community – forced evictions of dealers and nightly patrols by the residents were the only way they could begin to address the problem.
Now with regeneration in its final stages a small number of residents remain. Most of the buildings have been demolished and the occupants moved to different locations around Dublin. These people are now dealing with the reality of transition into new neighbourhoods and establishing a new identity and sense of belonging.
These images – taken over a seven year period before regeneration had begun, highlight the struggle to stay alive, to be clean, to survive – are another reminder that social integration and inclusion must be accompanied by economic investment for it to have a chance. The pictures are the last breath of a vibrant community before it is finally laid to rest.