The exhibition features a huge array of artwork from over 100 artists including paintings from the ‘30s, ‘40s and ‘50s – a period in which landscape features very strongly – as well as contemporary and conceptual pieces reflecting changing times in Northern Ireland.
To give an idea of the contrasting styles an oil portrait of Barry Douglas by Colin Davidson is displayed a matter of metres away from a depiction of a bonfire scene using Greek mythology painted on a car bonnet by John Kindness.
Another striking collection on display belongs to Carrickfergus-born artist Gareth McConnell who shot a series of unique photos of young flute band members portraying them as you might see in a music magazine or album cover.
Curator Shan McAnena said: “What we’re trying to do is neither lament nor celebrate the existence of Northern Ireland, but to celebrate and survey the work that has come out of this part of the world and how it has been influenced by the fact that Northern Ireland exists.
“Of course there is art that is influenced by the conflict, obviously the Troubles have been a huge part of the lived experience here, but it isn’t the only art to come out of Northern Ireland.”
Shan said that an expert panel came up with a list of artworks that would help to showcase local artists and public collections.
She said: “We were aware very much of the sensitivities around staging an exhibition within the framework of marking a centenary. Of the 140 people we approached we only had six people who didn’t want to be in it.
“We said it was neither an elegy or a manifesto, that it was very much about the art.
“It’s years like centenaries that focus attention on a place, and there are very few opportunities for artists from this part of the world to show their work.
“Also it’s an opportunity to extend people’s understanding and knowledge of art from Northern Ireland.
“People might be aware of the greats like John Luke, Gerard Dillon, Terry Flanagan and Basil Blackshaw, but there’s a lot of the contemporary work that they perhaps aren’t so familiar with.
“It’s about expanding audiences as well and looking to the future with work from recent graduates from the Belfast School of Art.”
‘The Portrait of Northern Ireland: Neither an Elegy nor a Manifesto’ opens to the public at the Golden Thread Gallery from 2pm on Tuesday, running until Thursday 4th November, with late opening on the final evening for Late-Night Art Belfast.
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