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Silent Testimony Exhibition

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by Tony Collins (subscribe)
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Poignant exhibition devoted to horror of the Troubles
An emotive exhibition of paintings has opened in Staffordshire which explores the human impact of the Troubles in Northern Ireland and beyond. The National Memorial Arboretum has unveiled Silent Testimony, a collection of 18 portraits of individuals who experienced loss during the turbulent 30-year period in Northern Ireland from the late 1960s onwards. It has been created by internationally renowned artist Colin Davidson who gained a reputation for his series of large-scale portraits with sitters including HM The Queen, President Bill Clinton, Chancellor Angela Merkel, Sir Kenneth Branagh, Brad Pitt and Ed Sheeran.

Silent Testimony, National Memorial Arboretum
Artist Colin Davidson with portrait subjects (left to right) Mo Norton, Thomas O'Brien, Mary Finnis, Margaret Yeaman and Fiona Kelly


The exhibition, which was launched on Saturday 29 June and remains on display until September 1, comprises paintings of relatives of those killed in terrorist attacks in Northern Ireland, the Republic of Ireland and mainland Britain. They include a portrait of Mo Norton, whose 24-year-old brother died when a bomb exploded on a coach on the M62 in England in February 1974, and Mary Finnis, whose son Rory, 21, was shot dead in Derry in 1991. It also includes survivor Margaret Yeaman who was blinded when a car bomb exploded in Northern Ireland in 1982. Several of the portrait subjects, including the three mentioned above, accepted invitations to attend the exhibition launch at the Arboretum, in Alrewas, near Lichfield.

National Memorial Arboretum, Silent Testimony
Portrait of Flo O'Riordan whose son Sean was killed in Belfast in 1972


Colin Davidson, who grew up and studied art in Belfast, said he began the project in 2014, and was helped in contacting people by victims charity The Wave Project. He said of the Silent Testimony exhibition: "I wanted to recognise those people who were paying the price for the Troubles, who had suffered loss through the conflict. What shaped me was reading the Good Friday Agreement in 1998 and realising that while it was a good time for most, for those who suffered a loss it was a bad time because they wanted answers. They were paying for everyone else's peace and had to forego that for a greater good. I wanted to acknowledge that people had been left behind." Mr Davidson added: "These 18 paintings capture the shared sense of loss between these individuals despite their very different stories. They represent the many thousands of stories of people who suffered during this brutal period of conflict that ravaged this small part of the world for decades."

Mo Norton, whose brother died in a coach bombing in England in 1974


The Silent Testimony exhibition, which was first shown at the Ulster Museum Belfast and has since been seen at the United Nations in New York, includes terrorism victims in England and Dublin as well as Northern Ireland. Mo Norton, whose brother Terence was one of 12 people killed when a coach blew up on the M62, said: "I would have given my right arm not to have been here, but I feel very touched and honoured that I was asked to sit for Colin. Of course, it reminds me of what happened to my brother but you don't ever forget." Mo said her brother was with the Royal Artillery and returning to his barracks in Catterick when the bomb exploded". She added: "It was important that the exhibition also reflected victims in England."

Silent Testimony, Colin Davidson
Colin Davidson surrounded by some of his portraits


Chris Ansell, Exhibitions Officer at the National Memorial Arboretum, said: "This evocative exhibition provides a window into the suffering of those who lost loved ones during the troubles. The series of portraits results in an intriguing and emotive showcase of stories that demonstrate how conflict cuts across communities without care for identity, leaving suffering in its wake."
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Why? Moving exhibition in tribute to people affected by the Troubles
When: 29 June to 1 September
Phone: 01283 245100
Where: National Memorial Arboretum, Croxall Road, Alrewas, Staffordshire, DE13 7AR
Cost: Free
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