An exhibit 20 years in the making and featuring silent video portraits of 14 political figures who negotiated the Belfast Good Friday Agreement, is set to open to the public on 15 April at Ulster University Belfast.
Made possible by The National Lottery Heritage Fund, this is the first time AGREEMENT by artist Amanda Dunsmore will be displayed in its entirety, with the exhibition running until 20 April. It will also see Ulster University’s enhanced Belfast campus play host to the world premiere of a new digital portrait of former Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, the late Mo Mowlam, created using new technology and broadcast archive footage from RTÉ.
As Amanda explains:
"I started to become aware of Hollywood-based machine-learnt facial mapping – I'm trying to appropriate it to bring back the representation of an important individual who was a woman back into the visual narrative of the individuals involved in the Good Friday Agreement."
Mo Mowlam’s portrait will be displayed alongside those of late Nobel laureates John Hume and David Trimble, NI Women’s Coalition leaders Monica McWilliams and Pearl Sagar, as well as Senator George Mitchell, then-US Special Envoy for NI, among others in the striking atrium space of the university’s enhanced Belfast campus.
Dunsmore, an Ulster University School of Art alumna, was artist-in-residence at the Maze prison in the 1990’s when the late Mo Mowlam visited loyalist prisoners as then-Secretary of State in an effort to keep their support for the peace process in January 1998.
It was this act by Mo Mowlam which set things into motion as Amanda explains:
“Mo took an unprecedented step for a secretary of state – that act deeply impressed me and the people of Northern Ireland, so Mo Mowlam is the main inspiration for starting this body of work. It really made me wish I could, by making an artwork, acknowledge these individuals, these representatives of communities who had made the miracle of agreement.
"With the silent portraits the effect is quite strong on the audience because you come in with the understanding that these individuals are always imparting information, always animated and talking but when you're given the silent other half of the individual it gives this quite deep effect."
Although Amanda started the project in 2004, it was 2019 before Women's Coalition members Pearl Sagar and Monica McWilliams sat for her, and then three of the video portraits for AGREEMENT – Gerry Adams, Gary McMichael and Malachi Curran - were only filmed last year. Dr Mo Mowlam died on the day in 2005 that Amanda filmed the portrait of the late Martin McGuinness in the Void Gallery in Derry~Londonderry.
After its run at Ulster University’s Belfast campus, AGREEMENT will then travel across Northern Ireland, with six community installations taking place over the course of the rest of the year. Supported by The National Lottery Heritage Fund thanks to National Lottery players, Quarto Collective are working with diverse community groups who will host the artwork for a short period, as an opportunity to reflect on the principles of coming to agreement and on what the Good Friday Agreement means to people today.
Dr Paul Mullan, Director, Northern Ireland, at The National Lottery Heritage Fund:
“This is a unique project which attempts to look at the Good Friday Agreement from the perspective of heritage and through the prism of an artist’s response to what we have learnt from it. This is all the more important at a time in which questions are being asked about the Good Friday Agreement and how well it serves us today. So, it is good to go back to look at the reasons for its inception if only to remind us of how far we have come and how much we have achieved in those 25 years since 1998.”
An associated exhibition of new, never before seen work by Amanda Dunsmore, MEMENTO – AGREEMENT, opens at Ulster University Art Gallery on 12 April and runs until 22 May. A print edition series of artworks, will feature 14 mementoes, including hand-drawn portraits, of those co-signatories, past and present, as Amanda revisits her video portraits two decades on.
Cian Smyth, Ulster Presents Programme Manager, Ulster University said:
“Ulster Presents, the university’s civic arts programme, is delighted to not only be the first to display AGREEMENT in its entirety on our enhanced Belfast campus, but also honoured to be the first in the world to host the new Mo Mowlam silent portrait. Both AGREEMENT and MEMENTO – AGREEMENT will provide the public with an opportunity to reflect on the last 25 years of peace. The theme of our full, year-long calendar of arts programming will look away from political leadership and instead take inspiration from Northern Ireland citizens’ resilience in sustaining peace for 25 years since the Good Friday Agreement.”
The exhibits form part of the university’s overarching arts programme to mark 25 years since the signing of the agreement. Further exciting arts commissions to come include:
20 April – Difficult Conversations – Belfast campus
In partnership with British Council and University of Canberra, Ulster University presents Difficult Conversations; a series of talks by world-leading artists and researchers asking: ‘What is the role of art and creativity in a polarised society?’. For BGFA@25, Difficult Conversations launches its first book of work by contributors at an event that will host up to 30 international artists, curators and cultural policymakers from around the world. These delegates and the public will also be treated to a series of international workshops hosted by Northern Ireland’s Turner Prize-winning Array Collective. Further information can be found here: ulster.ac.uk/bgfa/events/difficult-conversations and here: www.adifficultconversation.com
Jonathan Stewart, Director of British Council NI said:
“The British Council is delighted to be supporting Ulster University’s arts programme marking the 25th anniversary of the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement. Difficult Conversations, a new book published by the British Council in partnership with Ulster University and the University of Canberra, presents a collection of contemporary work from across Northern Ireland and Australia which explores the important role of the arts in navigating ongoing debates and controversial questions for our communities. As part of this week, we will be bringing an international delegation to Northern Ireland to find out more about our peace building journey, to share ideas and practice, and connect and collaborate with new networks.”
27 August - After the Rain – Derry~Londonderry campus
Celebrating the physical and spiritual resilience of citizens here over the last 25 years, this will be a world premiere of new work by a globally famous circus troupe of 20 acrobats: Compagnie XY, working with local artists and communities in a collective civic attempt to lift each other up. It follows the contemporary French circus company’s surprise appearances in September for Les Voyages Derry~Londonderry and continues a collaboration with artists and communities across the city to develop this new work. Part of the IWM 14-18 NOW Legacy Fund, the project is co-produced by In Your Space Circus in association with Circusful. Further information can be found here: ulster.ac.uk/bgfa/events/after-the-rain
Dame Diane Lees, Director-General of Imperial War Museums (IWM), commented:
“Collaborating with artists to explore conflict in creative and thought-provoking ways has been an integral part of IWM’s work for more than a century. The IWM 14-18 NOW Legacy Fund continues this tradition, and we are excited by the enormous potential for this commission with Ulster University and Compagnie XY to inspire meaningful conversation and reflection.”
Find out more about the AGREEMENT exhibition here:
More about MEMENTO-AGREEMENT: ulster.ac.uk/bgfa/events/memento-x-agreement
To see more of what Ulster University planned to mark the 25th anniversary of the signing of the Belfast Good Friday Agreement, visit: ulster.ac.uk/bgfa