Quiet Peacemakers: An artistic celebratory exhibition by Susan Hughes
by Catherine DOYLE for Northern Ireland Foundation
23 June 2014
‘Quiet Peacemakers’ is a new exhibition of 35 portraits of those who have worked behind the public eye for peace in Northern Ireland. The series includes clergy members from a range of denominations, community activists and group workers; a Motley crew of individuals, but united in their peace-building work.
There was a strong interest among the viewers in the exhibition space at the Duncairn Centre for Culture and Arts (run by the 174 Trust). Everyone I spoke to commended the artist Susan Hughes.
The Lord Mayor of Belfast, Nichola Mallon, described the exhibition as “wonderful”. The theme fits in with her goal to celebrate the “unsung heroes”. She praised Susan for “celebrating and showcasing … the recognition they deserve”.
Peter Osborne was delighted that the Community Relations Council (CRC) (of which he chairs) supported the project. He praised the artist for “capturing the personality of the people”.
Indeed, many personal characteristics are revealed in the portraits. For example, the one of Kate Kelly shows a lady with an infectious smile and it wasn’t hard to spot her among the spectators, as she was donning the same beam. A former CRC Council Member (among other achievements), Kate said, “I hadn’t combed my hair in it or anything”, but was “very pleased” with her portrayal. Kate said that it was “quite unexpected” to be included in an exhibition of peacemakers, but that it had “awakened” something in her. She said: “The whole community is sustained by people who don’t figure.”
Susan originally painted Father Gerry Reynolds as a singular work, but was then encouraged by her mother to expand the project. The artist described how much she enjoyed working on the Redemptorist priest because of the “freedom” of painting for the sake of painting. She said: “No commission. I just wanted to paint him.” Perhaps this is why Fr. Reynolds’ print has proven to be the most popular. Despite this, he remains humble. Describing his thoughts about being acknowledged, he said: “It was news to me.”
Malachi O’Doherty (journalist) gave the opening speech. He talked about his initial question after hearing about the idea, “Who is to decide who is the peacemakers?” But went on to say that: “When you see the pictures themselves something happens … you find the individual”.
Derek Poole (Programme Director, LINC Project) chaired the panel discussion. He described the art as having “a celebratory element that’s quite rare”.
Fr. Martin Magill spoke about his surprise at seeing his own portrait: “I didn’t realise I spoke so much with my hands.” He described quiet peacemaking as being about “ordinary people doing ordinary things”.
Susan told me about how she approached the work: “I tried to chat so that they’d be natural, just about their experiences and their vision.” This was later picked up by Rev. Lesley Carroll: “The conversation mattered as much as the painting.” Rev. Carroll went on to praise Susan’s technique: “You got something from people”. The reverend described it as enabling the artist to draw “a personality”.
Susan’s “Quiet Peacemakers” is an important exhibition. The people included in the series should be distinguished and congratulated on their work, and so should Susan in the wonderful execution of the project.
The artwork will also be displayed in Belfast City Hall in December 2014.
An exhibition catalogue of Quiet Peacemakers is available for purchase (£5): http://shudesigns.com/product/quiet-peacemakers/
An online version of Quiet Peacemakers is also available to purchase (£3): http://shudesigns.com/product/quiet-peacemakers-pdf/