Human impact of the Troubles captured in new exhibition at the National Memorial Arboretum

Published on: Mon, 01/07/2019 - 09:59

Silent Testimony

On Saturday 29 June, the National Memorial Arboretum, in Staffordshire will unveil Silent Testimony a new free to enter exhibition by internationally renowned portrait artist Colin Davidson exploring the human impact of the Troubles, revealing the personal stories of eighteen individuals who experienced loss during the turbulent 30-year period in Northern Ireland from the late 1960s onwards.

The eighteen paintings set aside identity or labels in favour of capturing the human spirit of each subject, their religious or other affiliations not having relevance to their personal suffering. They include relatives of those killed in attacks in Northern Ireland, the Republic of Ireland and mainland Britain.

Until this exhibition, the artist, who grew up and studied art in Belfast, had not responded overtly to what he witnessed or personally experienced during the Troubles. Silent Testimony is a powerful response which reflects on how the conflict has had, and continues to have, a profound impact on thousands of individuals - the injured, their families, the families of those who died and the wider community.

Davidson has gained a reputation for his series of large-scale portraits with sitters including HM The Queen, President Bill Clinton, Chancellor Angela Merkel, Sir Kenneth Branagh, Brad Pitt and Ed Sheeran. While painting these familiar faces, he became increasingly preoccupied, not with their celebrity or standing, but more with their status as human beings. This continuing exploration of ‘common humanity’ is the foundation on which Silent

Silent Testimony has been shown at the Ulster Museum Belfast, the Centre Culturel Irlandais Paris, Dublin Castle, the Nerve Visual Gallery Derry and the United Nations New York.

Silent Testimony is a free to enter exhibition at the National Memorial Arboretum and is on display until 1 September 2019.

Colin Davidson, creator of Silent Testimony, said: “The Belfast Agreement of Good Friday 1998 coincided with clamour for a communal moving-on and that the dark, murky, terrifying decades known as the Troubles could be put behind us. All hoped that the daily killings and bombings would stop, gruesome massacres would cease, and life would at long last be normal. However, time is unable to heal all wounds and the suffering of those who lost loved ones was not banished with the signing of the agreement, instead leaving many with questions that they now knew would forever go unanswered.

“Whilst identity or ‘label’ is buried in the paint, it is my hope that the stories are not. These eighteen paintings capture the shared sense of loss between these individuals, despite their very different stories. They represent the many thousands of stories of people who suffered during this brutal period of conflict that ravaged this small part of the world for decades.”

Chris Ansell, Exhibitions Officer at the National Memorial Arboretum, said: “This evocative exhibition provides a window into the suffering of those who lost loved ones during the troubles. The series of eighteen portraits results in an intriguing and emotive showcase of stories that demonstrate how conflict cuts across communities without care for identity, leaving suffering in its wake.

The Arboretum continues to develop its cultural programme and it’s a terrific endorsement of our efforts to date that an artist of Colin Davidson’s stature has agreed to exhibit. We look forward to welcoming thousands of people to engage with his work.”