The portraits in Silent Testimony are never shown separately

Exhibition on the Troubles tours to England for the first time

Eleanor Mills, 11.07.2019
Exhibition arrives after showings across Northern Ireland and abroad
The National Memorial Arboretum in Staffordshire has opened an exhibition of portraits addressing the Troubles by the County Down-based artist Colin Davidson. 

The exhibition, Silent Testimony, is made up of 18 portraits of people who were deeply affected by the conflict, a body of work that Davidson does not allow to be separated. Until now, the works have not been displayed in England. 

The exhibition first went on display at Ulster Museum in 2015 and has since toured to the Irish Cultural Centre in Paris in 2016 and Dublin Castle in 2017. The paintings were shown to mark 20 years since the Good Friday Agreement in 2018 at Nerve Visual in Derry and the UN Headquarters in New York.

Free to enter, the exhibition reveals the personal stories of 18 individuals who experienced loss during the 30-year period in Northern Ireland from the late 1960s onwards, and explores the human impact of the Troubles. 

Portraits include those of Anne Cashart, whose father was killed in 1976; Joe Gallagher, who lost his father in 1969 and saw his sister seriously injured in 1990; Virtue Dixon, whose daughter Ruth died in an explosion at a pub where she was celebrating her birthday; Margaret Yeaman, who was blinded by a car bomb; and Mo Norton, whose brother was killed in a coach explosion on the M62 in England.

Davidson said: “The Belfast Agreement of Good Friday 1998 coincided with clamour for a communal moving-on and that the dark, murky, terrifying decades known as the Troubles could be put behind us. 

"All hoped that the daily killings and bombings would stop, gruesome massacres would cease, and life would at long last be normal. However, time is unable to heal all wounds and the suffering of those who lost loved ones was not banished with the signing of the agreement, instead leaving many with questions that they now knew would forever go unanswered.

“Whilst identity or ‘label’ is buried in the paint, it is my hope that the stories are not. These 18 paintings capture the shared sense of loss between these individuals, despite their very different stories. They represent the many thousands of stories of people who suffered during this brutal period of conflict that ravaged this small part of the world for decades.

“It is a privilege to have been invited to show Silent Testimony at the National Memorial Arboretum this summer. It is my hope that, in sharing these stories of loss through the Troubles, we can shine a light on the many thousands of people still suffering today. On an island where storytelling has been a bedrock for centuries, these stories form the legacy of all conflict.”

Chris Ansell, the exhibitions officer at the National Memorial Arboretum, said: “This evocative exhibition provides a window into the suffering of those who lost loved ones during the Troubles. The series of 18 portraits results in an intriguing and emotive showcase of stories that demonstrate how conflict cuts across communities without care for identity, leaving suffering in its wake.”

Silent Testimony is on display at the National Memorial Arboretum until 1 September 2019.

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