Northern Ireland news

Video portraits of Belfast/Good Friday Agreement leaders provoke tears

Agreement, a new exhibition of video portraits of 14 political leaders who negotiated the Belfast/Good Friday,has opened at the Ulster University campus in Belfast. (Rebecca Black/PA)
Rebecca Black, PA

A new exhibition of video portraits of the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement negotiators sparked some tears at its opening.

Agreement by artist Amanda Dunsmore created silent video portraits of 14 political figures.

They include a number of people who have since died such as former Northern Ireland Secretary Mo Mowlam, former UUP leader Lord Trimble, former SDLP leader John Hume, former Sinn Fein vice president Martin McGuinness and former PUP leader David Ervine.

The exhibition also includes former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern, and Northern Ireland Women’s Coalition leaders Monica McWilliams and Pearl Sagar, as well as the talks chairman Senator George Mitchell.

The video portraits are shown in rotation on three large screens on rotation at the Ulster University campus in Belfast.

There is also the opportunity for visitors to record their thoughts on the work.

Ms Dunsmore said the work has been 20 years in the making, and includes footage from the political leaders watching a film.

She previously worked as an artist in the former Maze Prison where scores of paramilitary prisoners were held during the Troubles.

“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 but also to recognise that,” she said.

“I started with Mo Mowlam, reaching out to her family, but the first I filmed was David Ervine in 2004 and continued on from then.

“It sounds like it was an easy process but it wasn’t, it was 19 years in the making.”

The first portrait she started thinking about ended up being the last one she completed, of Ms Mowlam, who died in 2005.

That was completed using new technology and broadcast archive footage from RTE.

Ms McWilliams was among those who attended the launch on Friday.

She admitted shedding a tear when she saw the footage of Mr Ervine, who died in 2007.

“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 said.

“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.”

This installation of the artwork officially opens to the public on April 15 and runs until April 20 at the Ulster University campus in Belfast.

An associated exhibition around the making of the exhibition will be on display at the Ulster University Art Gallery until 22 May.