New exhibition celebrates Mo Mowlam and other key GFA negotiators
AN EXHIBIT featuring silent video portraits of key political figures who negotiated the Good Friday Agreement is now open at Ulster University's Belfast campus.
Twenty years in the making, Agreement by artist Amanda Dunsmore went on display in its entirety for the first time ever on Saturday April 15, with all 14 of its video portraits currently available to view until April 20 - including a new digital portrait of the late Dr Mo Mowlam, former Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, created using new facial mapping technology and archive footage from RTÉ.
Dunsmore, an alumna of the Ulster University School of Art, was artist-in-residence at the Maze prison when Mo Mowlam visited loyalist prisoners in January 1998 in an effort to keep their support for the peace process.
"Mo took an unprecedented step for a secretary of state – that act deeply impressed me and the people of Northern Ireland, so Mo Mowlam is the main inspiration for starting this body of work," the artist said.
"It really made me wish I could, by making an artwork, acknowledge these individuals, these representatives of communities who had made the miracle of agreement."
However, as Mo Mowlam died in 2005, her portrait was only recently completed with the aid of digital trickery.
"I started to become aware of Hollywood-based machine-learnt facial mapping," Dunsmore explained.
"I'm trying to appropriate it to bring back the representation of an important woman into the visual narrative of the individuals involved in the Good Friday Agreement."
Mo Mowlam’s portrait is displayed alongside those of late Nobel laureates John Hume and David Trimble, NI Women’s Coalition leaders Monica McWilliams and Pearl Sagar, US Senator George Mitchell, former SDLP leader John Hume, former Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams, former Sinn Féin vice president Martin McGuinness, former PUP leader David Ervine and others in the atrium space of the Belfast campus.
Monica McWilliams was among those who attended the exhibition's launch event on Friday April 14.
“When I came in, I felt it was eerie, and a bit disturbing, some of them looked ill and died shortly afterwards, but then others looked exactly the same,” she told the Press Association.
“Then I dropped a few tears looking at David Ervine who I miss, who was like a brother to me, because we shared so much, then to come in and see him here, it was almost as if I could put my arms around him because his eyes are moving.
“So it’s mixed emotions, but I’m very proud Amanda did this.”
Although Dunsmore started the project in 2004, it was 2019 before Women's Coalition members Pearl Sagar and Monica McWilliams sat for her. Mo Mowlam died on the same day she filmed her video portrait of Martin McGuinness at Derry's Void Gallery in 2005, and three of the portraits, Gerry Adams, Gary McMichael and Malachi Curran, were only filmed last year.
“Individuals in society need time to process things, so about 2003, I started to think about what this moment [the Agreement] had done, and what this group of individuals had done. I wanted to try and hold that for future generations,” she said.
"With the silent portraits, the effect is quite strong on the audience because you come in with the understanding that these individuals are always imparting information, always animated and talking, but when you're given the silent other half of the individual, it gives this quite deep effect."
An associated exhibition of new, never before seen work by Amanda Dunsmore, Memento – Agreement is also running at the Ulster University Art Gallery until 22 May. A print edition series of artworks, it will feature 14 mementos, including hand-drawn portraits, of the Agreement's co-signatories, past and present, as Amanda revisits her video portraits two decades on.
Following its run at Ulster University, Agreement will then travel across the north, with six community installations taking place over the course of the rest of the year.