Colin Davidson: Silent Testimony
“The people who suffered loss are innocently paying for our peace”
by Kirsztina NAGY for Shared Future News
3 July 2015
The new exhibition, located in the Ulster Museum (Belfast), has been on display since 5th June, and includes 18 portrait paintings.
The artist, Colin Davidson, enhanced his reputation with painting large-scale portraits of musicians, actors, poets and writers.
He was long asked about his individual thoughts and experiences of the situation in Belfast. Silent Testimony is the answer to those questions.
The current set of paintings is not his first Belfast-themed exhibition. In 2004, his exhibition ‘No Continuing City’ constituted large paintings of the city from high viewpoints; and between 2006 and 2010 his paintings illustrated the neighbouring world seen in city window reflections.
However, from 2014 Davidson’s head paintings have increasingly emphasised exploring our ‘common humanity’. The portrayed 18 humans all suffered loss from the Troubles conflict.
While for most of us the Good Friday Agreement of 1998 meant a relief from suffering after three turbulent decades, for many people the Troubles still have an influence on their lives: the portrayed lost friends, children and parents who can never be replaced, and the sorrow and pain has never faded away.
“The people who suffered loss are innocently paying for our peace. I sort of feel that it’s just something that I need to comment on,” Davidson said in an interview with Culture NI (video below).
As Head of Art, National Museums Northern Ireland, Kim Mawhinney, expressed in the same interview, “The Ulster Museum has made a commitment that we will look and continue to examine how artists are looking back, reflecting on how the Troubles continue to affect people today and in the future.”
This is especially important since many people, like the portrayed individuals, have a lot to tell — Davidson argued — they just have to be given a chance to have a voice.
As one enters the exhibition area, it is easily noticeable that the exhibition is rather minimalist, in the sense that there is not too much explanation, only a short description of the persons next to the paintings and of the artist.
This is, on the one hand, in line with the title of the exhibition, Silent Testimony, since the grief and pain radiating from the paintings can be felt by all visitors.
However, the brief descriptions don’t enrich an understanding of the context of place. A richer explanation could broaden the exhibition’s appeal?
Nevertheless, Silent Testimony successfully conveys a powerful message of loss and recovery, for which the artist, museum, and above all, the portrait subjects, are to be commended.
Silent Testimony runs until 17 January 2016. Admission is free. For more information visit www.nmni.com/um