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Portraits of people affected by Troubles in Northern Ireland inspired by 'feeling of injustice'

By Claire McNeilly

Take a close look at these faces. They bear the expressions of people who have lost husbands, fathers, mothers, brothers, sons, daughters, nieces and friends. Others have been deprived of their sight, their limbs, or have sustained other life-altering injuries.

These individuals, united by pain and grief, feature in a new art exhibition that opens today at the Ulster Museum. Entitled Silent Testimony, it comprises large-scale portraits of 18 people affected by the Troubles, painted by Bangor man Colin Davidson.

And, in the artist’s words, “it’s not about being Protestant or Catholic. It’s about human loss”.

Davidson, who recently won a prestigious Oscar Wilde Award in Los Angeles, took five years to complete the project, on which he collaborated with cross-community victims’ support group WAVE.

However, he said the original idea came about at the time of the Good Friday Agreement in 1998.

“I was left with a nagging sense that turned into a feeling of injustice when I thought about the section of the community that was paying the price for peace,” he added. “As an artist I wanted to comment on that. It was important to make sure we had a balanced body of work, including Protestants, Catholics and other, although that’s not alluded to.”

Individuals were painted either in his Bangor studio or at a participant’s home, with sittings lasting anything from two to 24 hours. Davidson then used the drawings he had taken to complete the work.

Although he was moved by each individual experience, some affected him deeply. “As a father of two girls, the stories of people who have lost a child are particularly harrowing,” Davidson said.

“I would like the public to engage with the people who are depicted and read their stories. Because labels such as Catholic or Protestant are stripped away, I hope people can begin to think about the whole idea of suffering and human loss.”

The collection of work not only reveals the stories of 18 individuals connected by the Troubles, it also spans various age groups, as well as victims from Northern Ireland, the Republic and England.

Kim Mawhinney, head of art at National Museums Northern Ireland, who collaborated with the Co Down artist, said she hoped the exhibition would contribute to a shared and better future.

“It has been a privilege working with Colin and we hope this will allow art to continue to provide a platform for the Troubles,” she added. “We hope to tour the exhibition to reach the widest audience possible, possibly America.”

  • The exhibition is due to run until January 2016.

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