Silent Testimony revisited

9th November 2016

Our friend and colleague leading artist Colin Davidson has revisited his experience of the Silent Testimony exhibition whilst speaking about the recent unveiling of his portrait of The Queen. 

All at WAVE Trauma Centre including those who participated in Silent Testimony offer warm congratulations to Colin. A programme on the significance of Silent Testimony in light of his recent painting of Her Majesty was broadcast on RTE Nationwide. The programme called 'The Irishman Who Painted the Queen' is available on RTÉ One and RTÉ Player to view.

The programme written and presented by Tommie Gorman gives an insight into the significance of Colin's recent portrait. The programme documented the growing strength of Anglo-Irish relations following the Queen’s state visit to the Republic of Ireland in 2011 and the Irish President Michael D. Higgins’s state visit to the UK in 2014. In speaking about the process and how he came about completing the portrait, Colin mentions his involvement in the Silent Testimony exhibition and revisits his experience of it. Damien McNally, a former Chairman of WAVE and one of the sitter's talks about why Silent Testimony was important not only for the sitters but also for their wider family and others bereaved or injured throughout the Troubles.

Silent Testimony is a powerful exhibition which reveals the stories of eighteen people who are connected by their individual experiences of loss through the Troubles. In 2013, Colin approached WAVE Trauma Centre to undertake 10 or 11 paintings. Through a process of identifying as full participation from across the community as possible, WAVE put him in touch with eighteen individuals from across Northern Ireland, the Republic of Ireland and England. 

In the RTE programme Colin speaks about how he felt eighteen friendships were made with the sitters through the process of making Silent Testimony. The sitters have expressed how he displayed such compassion, understanding and sensitivity during the sittings in the journey to complete the final eighteen portraits. They are immensely proud of their involvement and grateful to have received such public acknowledgement of their story and experiences. Colin said at the time that he felt “immense privilege” to have been able to have met and capture the people whose stories had not been told. Sadly one of the sitters a remarkable woman called Maureen Reid died before the portraits were unveiled and it has been a source of comfort to her family that her Maureen's legacy lives on through Colin’s work.

Since 2010, Davidson has become internationally renowned for his series of large-scale portraits of actors, musicians, poets and writers including Angela Merkel, Brad Pitt, Liam Nesson, James Nesbitt, Seamus Heaney etc. While painting these familiar faces, he became increasingly preoccupied, not with their celebrity, but more with their status as human beings. This continuing exploration of ‘common humanity’ is the foundation on which Silent Testimony rests.

Until now, the artist, who grew up in Belfast and studied art at the University of Ulster, has not responded overtly to what he witnessed or personally experienced during the Troubles. Silent Testimony is a powerful response which reflects on how the conflict has had, and continues to have, a profound impact on thousands of individuals - the injured, their families, the families of those who died and the wider community.

The Silent Testimony exhibition was displayed at the Ulster Museum over a seven month period from 5th June 2015 - to 17th January 2016. It then travelled to Paris where it was displayed at the Centre Culturel Irlandais from the 29th January 2016 – 6th March 2016. 

All of those who went to the exhibition remarked that it was the most thought provoking exhibition. The sitters were delighted that over 65,000 people visited the exhibition while it was in Belfast alone.The Paris exhibition received thousands of visitors. It was poignant that it went to Paris, in the midst of the aftermath of the terrorist attacks in the city on the 7th January 2016. 

In written reactions, many said it had moved them to tears. “The eyes of each painting will stay with me for years to come,” one wrote.

“Silent Testimony” is likely to travel from Paris to North America. Colin considers it his “most important body of work” and will not allow the 18 portraits to be separated. It's a story collectively that needs to be told.

Below is a short film produced by Little Giant Films on Silent Testimony.

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