ArtBeat: Images of our past and present, Forbidden Art, the trauma of war... and the McCooeys

Notes and musings from the arts scene as it continues to emerge from lockdown, by Jane Hardy

The McCooeys are back in town, with a cast that includes, left to right, Patrick McBrearty, Dan Gordon and Christina Nelson. Picture by Brian Morrison.
Jane Hardy

I don't know who originally said the camera never lies. But US actor Cesar Romero amended it to a version I approve of, noting "The camera never lies. It lies every day." Depending on who's handling the Leica, where it's pointed and where it isn't, you get an edited photographic truth.

The other half and I discussed this when viewing a marvellous exhibition of monochrome work by French photographer Bernard Lesaing showing at the Ulster Museum until the end of March.

He first came to Belfast 40 years ago and captured a troubled city. He has returned and taken new pictures.

Yet the revealing shots of British soldiers facing up to local kids and grown-ups opposing the representatives of an apparent colonial force aren't that different in tone - although different in personnel - from the mainly-recovered city Lesaing has portrayed in the new collection.

Titled Faces and Landscapes, or Visages et Paysages, this shows a particular vision. There is one beautiful Co Down landscape, but the new photographs mainly show gritty streets, plus graffiti, a broken urban setting.

The Golden Mile seems less than 20 carat. Yet we walked to the museum through the glorious Botanic Gardens, clocking Lanyon's glass house (rival to anything at Kew).

Having said that, the very painterly portrait of a young woman, posing with direct gaze to camera, presents a beautiful aesthetic.

Professor Mary Beard, classicist and TV presenter, has a new must-watch mini-series, Forbidden Art (BBC Two), about taboos in art.

She's examining not just what shocks us, from explicit erotic images to the violence of Goya's series on war, but who decides what we're allowed to see. It's compelling, horrifying, fascinating.

The Goya sequence, miniature in scale which somehow makes the detailed drawings of atrocities more nightmarish, came to the Ulster Museum a while ago. We get all this state funded - and for free.

Actor Richard Clements, ex-The Fall, has written a one-man show (Lyric Theatre, Naughton Studio, March 9-10) about the long-term psychological effects of serving in the Second World War on his grandfather Norman.

The soldier observes: "I saw the... savagery all around me etched into the faces - I was one of them too. Why me?"

How to Bury A Dead Mule examines the invisible damage with compassion and honesty.

On a lighter note, the McCooeys, Belfast's must-listen radio tribe from the 50s, are back in town thanks to a production at the Grand Opera House Studio by Centre Stage Theatre Company (February 16-26).

Created by Joseph Tomelty, whose granddaughter Hannah Carnegie plays Sally, it's a welcome shot of nostalgic comedy about lost raffle tickets and life in the period.

Carnegie says the audience reaction was terrific when they relaunched the McCooeys online during lockdown. "It really struck a chord."

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