Gail Ritchie, an artist born in Newtownards, has been working with us. She is a well-regarded artist known through the Island of Ireland and increasingly internationally.
Here is her account of how she has been working with us to better understand the troubles.
“Late last year I gave a talk about my artistic practice at Shankhill Womens’ Centre. During the presentation I focused on artworks, made by me between 2019 and 2022, and I explained to the group that each of these artworks represented a different way of thinking about the Troubles and how they might be remembered. These artworks (drawings, sculptures, unfinished models and paintings) formed part of a body of research made in response to these questions: what could a memorial to the Troubles look like and should such a memorial exist? I spoke to the women about my personal memories of the Troubles and how they had informed my thinking about time, memory and mourning. In return, the women shared their memories with me and through their insights, the artworks I had made accrued a deeper meaning.
My talk was only one in a series of talks and my contribution to the conversation was one of many. It struck me, however, that running through these conversations there were common themes that weaved through our memories of the Troubles such as the tensions between inside and outside, the external factors that affected family life and the sense of continuity and comfort that (mostly) mothers did their best to provide. During the darkest times, children played in the streets , even if their playground was burnt out cars and broken glass.
When asked to make a visual and creative response to the findings from all the talks and workshops (including the one I attended) my initial thought was to devise a presentation using only my most recent Troubles related work. Looking through my own archive, however, it became clear that conflict, trauma, tension, the mother figure and the domestic sphere were themes found throughout my work now and in the past. Is this the legacy the Troubles have left me or is it an ongoing response to the trouble we are never free from – socially, politically and environmentally? Like the memorials I made, these questions are unresolved.
The visual response shown here, therefore, contains a mix of images: old and new, recognisable and less familiar as well as creative and speculative interpretations. Similarly, the text is an entangled prose piece which combines the participants’ words with my own. The presentation starts with a road block at an army barracks and ends with an imagined space that we enter together, moving forward and reflected on the walls beside that of a neighbour or a stranger. Along the way, reference is made to the mother figure, the domestic space and the spaces of incarceration which took parents away. I used a wreath in muted colours to suggest that when mourning, we are all the same on a fundamental level, in that we feel pain. Like the small sculpture of broken birds we are vulnerable and fragile.
Finally, in this presentation I wanted to respect the thoughts and the memories that were shared with me by sharing my own, in visual form. My intention was to reflect and respond, but not to illustrate them literally, because they are not my memories to share in that way. I hope that anyone viewing this visual essay , whether they have memories of the Troubles or not, will recognise at least one or two images that speak to the troubles of their own time.”