Belfast Telegraph

Poignant new exhibition shows fabric of NI's Troubles history

By Leona O'Neill

A poignant and unique exhibition which has the name of every person killed in the Troubles hand sewn onto linen handkerchiefs has opened in Londonderry.

The Linen Memorial is a haunting and stark visual reminder of the 3,721 deaths which took place during the Troubles.

The exhibition was brought to life after Belfast-born Canadian artist Lycia Trouton read the book Lost Lives, which examines every death.

The work commemorates those who died from 1966 to 2006 after the artist commissioned 51 embroiderers from around the globe to hand sew the names of victims onto small squares of crisp white linen. The names are hung from the roof and appear in chronological order.

Each of the small linen squares has 10 names and they are connected to the squares above and below them.

The names of IRA and UVF volunteers sit alongside murdered RUC men, and those of civilians and dead British soldiers sit alongside victims of state killings.

"Every single name is hand sewn," says Lycia.

"I had 50 women and one man from all corners of the world sew each one individually. A name takes an hour to sew in. When they were sewing the name, some of them would have been already aware of the victim's story. Some of them would have looked up the person, some of them didn't wish to know. I had different reactions.

"I had a lady who did Reiki healing and she felt that she sensed something when sewing the names. I had a lady in Belfast who wanted to embroider her own loved one's name."

Each linen handkerchief is not only a visual symbol of each life lost, but is also a nod to Northern Ireland's colonial textile industry.

"Linen is part of the history of Northern Ireland in Edwardian Belfast" she says.

"Handkerchiefs are a symbol of goodbye, there's ecclesiastic linen and Egyptian linen was used to surround dead bodies. That is why we used that material."

Lycia, who was born in Belfast and moved to Canada when she was three years old, said that people who visit the exhibition, which has travelled all over the world, like to leave mementoes. She also explained that embroiderers would sew a piece of their own hair into some of the names.

"I have a whole set of mementos, including a thousand origami cranes from Japan, personal mementoes, letters, essays, poems and guitar songs. Some people liked to pin things to their loved one's name.

"At times I would have an embroiderer sew a piece of hair into the first name. This came from Victorian times when people would wear a piece of hair in a locket or a piece of jewellery, like a memento mori. So there are strands of the embroiderer's hair and strands of my own sewn into some of the names, linking each other personally."

The Linen Memorial has travelled the globe, firstly from artist to volunteer embroiderer then back to artist and then into the public domain through exhibitions in the US, Australia, Canada and the UK.

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