ARTS PROGRAMME – new, never-before-seen commissions

Ulster Presents, the university’s civic arts arm, has today unveiled a Northern Ireland-wide, year-long programme of ambitious art commissions, looking away from political leadership and instead taking inspiration from Northern Ireland citizens’ resilience in sustaining peace for 25 years since the ‘Good Friday’ Agreement.

Opening with a standout work by the artist Amanda Dunsmore, 20 years in the making, AGREEMENT will be hosted in the striking Atrium space on the enhanced Belfast Campus. Featuring 14 epic-scale video portraits of community and political leaders behind the ‘Good Friday’ Agreement sitting in silence; community groups and the public are invited to reflect and converse on their own experiences of conflict, peace and of the Agreement itself.

Featuring many familiar faces from Nobel Laureates John Hume and David Trimble to Northern Ireland Women’s Coalition leaders Monica McWilliams and Pearl Sagar, the artwork will also present the World Premiere of a new digital portrait of Mo Mowlam using machine learning processes and broadcast archive. These silent portraits will allow visitors an opportunity to consider their own reflections on the last 25 years.

From Ulster University Belfast to the corners of NI

AGREEMENT opens for one week on the Belfast Campus from 15-20 April to launch the project. Then the work will travel the length and breadth of Northern Ireland with six community installations taking place over the course of the summer.

Funded in partnership with National Lottery Heritage Fund, QUARTO Collective are inviting six communities across Northern Ireland to host the special 3-screen presentation of 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.

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. It will feature 14 mementoes, including hand-drawn portraits, of those co-signatories, past and present, as Amanda revisits her video portraits two decades on.

Paul Mullan, CEO of National Lottery Heritage Fund NI, said:

“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.”

Further exciting arts commissions to come

On 20 April, Ulster University and British Council host Difficult Conversations in partnership with the University of Canberra. Launched last year, Difficult Conversations involves a series of talks by world-leading artists and researchers asking ‘What is the role of art and creativity in a polarised society?’ For GFA@25, Difficult Conversations hosts a book launch of work by contributors to those conversations at an event that will host up to 30 international artists, curators and cultural policy-makers 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.

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.”

Following the world-leading Compagnie XY’s surprise appearances in September 2022 for Les Voyages Derry~Londonderry, this spectacular contemporary French circus company has since been collaborating with artists and communities across the city to develop a new work for 2023. Celebrating the physical and spiritual resilience of citizens here over the last 25 years, this will be a World Premiere of a new work by a globally famous modern circus troupe of 20 acrobats working with local artists and communities in a collective civic attempt to lift each other up! Part of the IWM 14-18 NOW Legacy Fund, the project is co-produced by In Your Space Circus in association with Circusful.

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.”

Cian Smyth, Ulster Presents Programme Manager, Ulster University commented:

“Our approach to this arts programme has been to recognise and respond to the contribution the average citizen has made and is making to sustaining peace or non-violence in the face of conflict. For us, the arts are a perfect way to explore this. There are so many ways to creatively do so, non-verbally, involving everyone in a collective act. It is also an opportunity for artists to re-group and consider their role in our society as, some say, the world of social and political debate becomes more polarised. This is not just an opportunity to mark an anniversary or even the Agreement itself but one that allows us to reflect on what the idea of agreement means to us now and what we want of ‘peace’ in the future.”