Ogham Art | Your Presence Written in the Past
Ogham Art | Your Presence Written in the Past
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Dublin Zoo Uses Artist’s Work Without Permission or Recognition in Major Installation


The Dublin Zoo used original artistic renditions of Irish-American artist Colleen Berry Conway in their illuminated Ogham lanterns at their 2019 Wild Lights “Stories, Myths & Legends” exhibit without permission or acknowledgement claiming that because the Ogham alphabet is not copyrighted, artistic renditions can not be protectable. 

Southington, CT, January 26, 2020 -- According to the Dublin Zoo, the Ogham art used on their illuminated lantern display is not a direct copy of the work of Ogham artist Colleen Berry Conway. The Zoo maintains that the alphabet can not be copyrighted and therefore, any artistic rendering is not protectable.

Ogham (pronounced "OH-um") is the ancient Irish alphabet deciphered from etched lines found in stones across Ireland, Scotland, Wales and the Isle of Man. The modern cultural relevance of Ogham is greatly dependent on the vitality of dedicated and passionate Ogham artists spreading the pride of Irish heritage. If Ogham as an art form is marginalized, these artists and their craft will disappear. The Dublin Zoo has marginalized Ogham as an art form and has dismissed those who have dedicated their lives to preserving Irish history and heritage by claiming that any original artistic presentation of Ogham by individuals is not protectable because the Ogham alphabet itself is not protectable. 

The 2019 Wild Lights installation called “Stories, Myths and Legends” pairs illuminated depictions of Tir na nOg, Cu Cullann, the Children of Lir, the Brown Bull of Cooley, the Salmon, and Fionn along with eight (8) Ogham stone lanterns. While appropriately depicting these two significant chapters in Irish history, the Ogham renderings used on the lanterns are exact replicas of the original aesthetic mark of an Ogham artist used without permission, credit or remuneration. 

"We were shocked that a reputable institution such as the Dublin Zoo would copy a small artist's Ogham artwork, display it as their own, and when confronted with their plagiarism, claim Ogham was not protectable," says Ogham artist Colleen Berry Conway. "The global fascination with and exposure to Ogham exists today primarily due to Ogham artists' brushstrokes, crafted jewelry, and home decor interpretation. Each of us brings a unique and varied artistic rendition to our celebration of the alphabet. Today’s Ogham is more than just lines. It is an art form.” Brian de Staic, one of Ireland’s most acclaimed jewelers for nearly 40 years, offers an exclusive and precious line of handcrafted jewelry bearing the markings of Ogham. For 20 years, Ethel Kelly of County Roscommon has been creating Ogham Wishes, her award-winning art that is individually and meticulously painted on handmade paper. Since the founding of Ogham Art in 2010, Colleen Berry Conway’s devotion to Ogham and Irish heritage is recognized in America and abroad through her art, jewelry, home decor and tattoo designs as well as her informative workshops on the Ogham alphabet. 

 The Dublin Zoo has admirably contributed to “the conservation of bio-diversity on earth” for 150 years. (Source: https://www.dublinzoo.ie/about/) They are obligated as the largest attraction in Ireland to uphold moral standards, with wildlife and beyond. The integrity of their conservation projects should be extended to any and all exhibits seen by their 1 million annual visitors, including their Wild Lights experience. "Zoos need to be modeling behavior we want our kids to emulate,” says Conway. “It is a shame that the Dublin Zoo can't act responsibly by owning and acknowledging a mistake, apologizing, and recognizing the true artist behind the installations it hired a Chinese company to build for its immensely popular Wild Lights. If the zoo won’t confirm the irrefutable similarities, the public will."

Comparison photos of all eight (8) lanterns can be viewed at www.oghamart.com/pages/dublinzoowildlights2019

The theft of original designs is a constant struggle for artists around the world. From Disney to Dubai, original art is used without permission, depriving artists of the deserved recognition earned through years of learning technique, developing skills and creating a branded mark. “What should have been an absolute honor has turned into a crippling blow to my art and Ogham artists everywhere,” said Ms. Conway. “The Dublin Zoo found my Ogham paintings beautiful enough to feature in their exhibit but denied me the opportunity to celebrate such an achievement by refusing to request permission or acknowledge my contribution.” 

 Ms. Conway has added a page to her website, OghamArt.com, to document the scope of the zoo's plagiarism www.oghamart.com/pages/dublinzoowildlights2019. This page includes comparison photos of all eight (8) lanterns featuring her artwork and links to other Ogham artists’ websites to emphasize the art form's diversity and to encourage support of all Ogham artists. She has launched a full campaign for public support to force the Dublin Zoo to acknowledge the creative aspects of the art form of Ogham in general and her artistic contribution featured in the 2019 Wild Lights Ogham installation. The initial stages of the campaign have shown an overwhelming response of outrage at the zoo’s actions and public support for artists’ rights.

Excerpts from emails & social media posts sent directly to the Dublin Zoo that have not received any replies or comments from the zoo as of  11 Jan.:

“While the Ogham is indeed an alphabet and open to public use, each artist has their own flair and Ogham art becomes much like a fingerprint, beautifully unique to the individual. The manner in which you have blatantly plagiarized her work is appalling and the fact that your organization has refused to rectify the situation shows exactly the character of those in charge. You have taken what could have been an amazing opportunity for an artist, having her work displayed proudly and prominently, and robbed Ms. Conway not only of that opportunity, but of her labor of love and her artwork as well….Shame on you.” - Elle D.  

  • “As a supporter of Ogham Art & Colleen Conway, I find it appallingly dishonorable that the Dublin Zoo has so obviously taken it upon themselves to make exact replicas of Ms Conway's work, literally to the brushstroke with so little regard to true artistry, disregarding copyrighted art created as well as neglecting to give credit where credit is due AND by gaining financially at her expense. You should be ashamed of yourselves.” - Chris T. 

  • “Artists are the lifeblood of the world, and your argument that the Ogham alphabet isn't "protected" is silly, and there is no way that you really believe it. This is SO reprehensible. Colleen Berry Conway's work is beautiful, you know this, which is why you've chosen to use it for your lanterns. You need to issue Colleen and Ogham Art full credit, compensation, a sincere apology and a solemn promise to never do this again to another independent artist.”  - Michelle D. 

  • “It's understood that an alphabet can't be copyrighted, but the artistic use of that alphabet certainly can. How in good conscience can the Dublin Zoo steal Colleen Conway's work? The Dublin Zoo obviously liked the work enough to use it then give her credit - give her compensation.” - Mary-Ellen V.

  • “How awful! This needs to be stopped now.” - Mark M.

  • “I am disgusted to hear you used Ogham Art’s artwork in your Wild Lights display without permission or recognition! I ask you, HOW IS THIS OKAY?!” - Tami H.

  • “You owe her an apology, publicity, and probably compensation for her composition. I would hope that your institution would make this right with her, and give her the credit she is due.” - Jen D.

  • Please call and email the zoo and its board of directors and tell them to respect Ogham as an art form celebrating Irish heritage and to respect small artists’ rights.  The zoo can be reached at 353 (0)1 4748900 or by emailing info@dublinzoo.ie.  

    Colleen Berry Conway of Ogham Art can be reached at info@oghamart.com or by calling 860-426-2881 (00-1-860-426-2881 from Ireland).