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Difficult Conversations: Art and Polarising Social and Political Debate

Published:  14 Jun 2022

Ulster University launches website with the University of Canberra focusing on ‘Difficult Conversations’

Ulster University launches website with the University of Canberra focusing on ‘Difficult Conversations’

Features talks and interviews with leading Northern Ireland and Australian artists and academics including artist Colin Davidson, Australian poet Dr Paul Collis and the 2021 Turner Prize-winning Array Collective

Ulster University and University of Canberra, Australia, with the support of the British Council, today (Wednesday, 15 June) launch Difficult Conversations, a new website featuring talks and discussions with leading Northern Ireland and Australian artists and academics.

From conversations about colonialism and First Nations rights to gender-based violence, homophobia and racism, Difficult Conversations explores the role of art and creativity in a polarised society.

Speakers include 2021 Turner Prize winners Array Collective, acclaimed artist Willie Doherty, Barkindji writer and poet Dr Paul Collis, winner of the David Uniapon Award 2016 and ACT Book of the Year 2018, and University of Canberra Chancellor Tom Calma, social justice campaigner and former ACT Australian of the Year.

Presented by the University of Canberra, Ulster University and the British Council as part of the UK/Australia Season, the initiative is the result of a symposium that took place in March 2022 online and in Canberra and is the beginning of a long-term partnership, aiming to strengthen collaboration and research between both institutions.

The website features conversations, interviews and performances by:

  • 2021 Turner Prize-winning Array Collective on how to sustain activism through both their individual and collective arts practice.
  • Australian Barkindji writer and poet Dr. Paul Collis, winner of the David Uniapon Award 2016 and ACT Book of the Year 2018
  • Ulster University Chancellor Dr Colin Davidson on his work Silent Testimony - an exhibition of portrait paintings of individual experiences of loss through the Troubles.
  • University of Canberra Chancellor Tom Calma, social justice campaigner and former ACT Australian of the Year.
  • Northern Ireland's Director of Transitional Justice Institute, Professor Siobhan Wills, in conversation with artist, visual artist Willie Doherty, on arts practice and advocacy for human rights.
  • Legendary performance artist, Emeritus Professor Alastair MacLennan alongside peers Dr Sandra Johnston, PhD researcher Dominic Thorpe and Brian Connolly.
  • Filmmaker and PhD researcher Ara Devine on his award-winning short film Turf featuring a unique encounter between a border-hopping Irishman and a Syrian refugee.
  • Distinguished Professor Jen Webb discussing art, poetry and creativity in the context of human rights.
  • Dr Louise Wallace on Penumbra, a work that explores the underrepresented voice of female Irish painters through the lens of ‘Troubles Art’.
  • A reading of poems by Dr Kathleen McCracken
  • A conversation about writing, representation and futurism with Dr Elinor Davies, Dr James Ward, Dr Carolann North and Dr Frank Ferguson.
  • Ulster University’s Chancellor, the artist Dr Colin Davidson, said: “Difficult Conversations is a fitting starting point for the new partnership between Ulster University and the University of Canberra. We’re working in partnership with the British Council to open channels of conversation and encourage dialogue on the role of art and creativity in a polarised society. Art of all mediums has a very powerful role to play in remembering and making sense of the past and although we are on different continents, I look forward to discussing our shared experiences and learnings.”

At the University of Canberra, the partnership has been fostered by Vice-Chancellor Professor Paddy Nixon, former Vice-Chancellor, Ulster University. He said:

“The partnership between the University of Canberra and my previous institution Ulster University is an exciting representation of the global opportunities available to us now that international borders have reopened. Difficult Conversations will be a great way to showcase the knowledge, expertise and opportunities available as a result of the partnership.”

Helen Salmon, Season Director and Director of the British Council in Australia said:

“The theme of the UK/Australia Season is Who Are We Now?, bringing together artists and academics to explore our history and imagine who we might be in the future.  This is a complex question and key to its exploration are opportunities for deep listening, dialogue, and cultural exchange. Difficult Conversations draws from experiences in Northern Ireland and Australia of creativity as a means to explore challenging subject matter and deepen mutual understanding.”

To find out more and watch the discussions, visit: adifficultconversation.com. You can also join in or follow the conversation using the hashtag #DifficultConversations.