The first of National Museums NI’s Troubles Art community-engagement programmes to run in Belfast has produced a unique, authentic and gritty perspective on the modern Northern Ireland conflict in three parts.
The triptych artwork created by the combined group from North Belfast Men’s Shed and East Belfast Wise Men’s Shed came as the culmination of a six-week programme, which involved trips to the Ulster Museum, Lisburn Museum, the Siege Museum, the Museum of Free Derry, and the Ulster American Folk Park.
In the latter part of the programme, the group reflected on their viewing of the Troubles Art exhibition, on their visits to other museums, and on their own experiences of living through the long period of the Troubles in the city where they hit hardest.
They decided to paint their response to the sustained violence in three parts. On the first canvas they painted a handshake between orange and green against a sky-blue background, to represent the overtures towards reconciliation during the decade and more prior to the Troubles.
The second canvas illustrated graphically the depressing turn of events, with a large pile of dead bodies against a dark-grey backdrop, and the grim reaper lurking on the horizon, to signify the murder and loss of thousands of people in the 1970s-90s period.
The third canvas portrays a return to the handshake of old and a slightly bluer sky and ‘’98’ to represent the Belfast / Good Friday Agreement, but followed abruptly with a question-mark, while the reaper looks on with scythe drawn – to depict how quickly society can degenerate from peace talks to the return of death and destruction.
Based on their long-term view of history, they called this triptych, ‘The Cycles of Hate’.
This work provides a timely reminder of the potential consequences of political instability, from a group of men who witnessed the Troubles first hand.