Global Politics

Is Italian finito in America?

As Ireland introduces its austerity budget today, we look at the fiscal crisis there through the eyes of the country's artists: a painter who has created controversial images of Ireland as a third world country, as a post-apocalyptic land and as a people rising up in revolution; a stage performer/slash economist who has taken a one man show about the crisis on the road to huge acclaim and popularity. The World's Laura Lynch reports.

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The drama in Dublin hasn't escaped the attention of Ireland's artists, writers and performers. David McWilliams is bringing in the crowds to theatres across Ireland, and that's in spite of the freezing weather.

McWilliams' one-man show, �Outsiders,� is simple in its staging, but complex in its subject matter. He strides around on a bare stage and explains to the audience how Ireland got into this mess, while a debt clock ticks away behind him

�Last year it was 65 billion, this year it's 90 billion and counting,� he tells the audience.

McWilliams is a gifted performer. In between the tough bits, he lightens things up, mocking the formerly rich with their fancy homes and their pretentiously named children.

�Around where I am, there's been an outbreak of Ezekiels,� he says to gales of laughter. He then imitates a mother calling her child. �Oh Ezekiel, come in for your asparagus tips.�

McWilliams commands an audience with his storytelling talents, but also with his insider's knowledge. He's an economist who used to work at Ireland's Central bank and in the investment banking industry.

In articles and broadcasts, he predicted Ireland's economic crash. McWilliams believes only his nation would reward him with a chance to put on a show.

�You would never see an American economist on the stage, and you would never see an American national theatre asking an economist to come on the stage,� he said. �It's not just me � the arts establishment here is very aware that the arts community has to interpret what's going on.�

McWilliams isn't alone in his interpretations. In Dublin, another artist has touched a nerve with his take on the nation's woes.

Brian McCarthy has made his best sales in two years with paintings that depict Ireland as a third world nation with teeming slums, cities in flames, and a land on the cusp of a revolution. McCarthy says the images were a reaction to the anger he felt as he watched his country unravel.

�It really sickened me to see what was going on in the upper echelons of our society here,� said McCarthy. �Our money had been frittered away and these paintings are all from that.�

A gallery owner suggested a show a few months ago and McCarthy jumped at the chance. He has two years worth of paintings sitting in his studio.

�I was under very severe financial pressure so I had no choice but to have the show.�

All the paintings in the series have sold, for thousands of Euros.

On Monday he unveiled his latest work, called Judgment Day. It features a statue of the Scales of Justice, visible through smoke and ash. Across a lake, a mother and her child look on, the girl clutching an Irish flag. One gallery patron said she found the image too negative.

�I don't think it's that bad here, is it? I don't think I could live with it,� she said, referring to the painting. �Then again, who could live with what we're dealing with here either?�

McCarthy is used to the reaction. He said the painting is actually meant to portray hope.

�From the ashes will rise the phoenix and young child looking on will be very different when she's an adult,� he said. �It's not all destruction, although it feels like it today.�

Throughout its history, Ireland has had its share of dark times. David McWilliams said they often coincide with the moments when the country's creative lights shine their brightest.

�The beauty of Ireland is that we have produced four Nobel Prize winners for literature and none for economics. It's fantastic.�

McWilliams ends his show with a hint of hope, urging the Irish to harness their creativity and their energy to challenge the politicians and the bankers. The message finds a receptive audience among those searching for signs of optimism.

Optimism, like creativity, is part of the Irish peoples' cultural DNA, and the economic crisis won't change that.