01 May 2006

Tunnel vision of city and prison life

Daily Ireland

Under the Lagan for exhibition with a strange new location

Sinéad O’Neill

The Lagan Tunnel in Belfast has become the unusual location for a ground-breaking new exhibition using images from Long Kesh prison.
Barriers of Belief documents the sense of imprisonment that arises in religiously and racially divided societies. It draws inspiration from both the defunct jail and the current war in Iraq.
The brainchild of the local artist Raymond Watson, it takes the format of a series of installations tucked away among the nooks and crannies of the underground water tunnel.
Highlights include Fair Trade, a thought-provoking display of Guantánamo-style orange jumpsuits coupled with a shopping trolley and a pair of baseball bats — a metaphor for Washington’s current foreign policy and our own love of consumerism at the expense of others — and A Cold Floor, a stirring plaster-cast model of a child’s feet standing atop a copy of the Bible.
The artist said he had been inspired by prisoners’ use of the Bible to keep their feet warm while on the blanket protest. The model represents the idea of the self-imprisonment that arises from living in a divided society.
There is also a series of photographs showing a damaged lookout post at the prison, a reconstruction of a visiting room similar to those used in Long Kesh, and a sight and sound installation that draws parallels between the jail and the peace wall separating the Falls and Shankill roads in west Belfast.
Although the exhibition uses images of Long Kesh as a starting point, Watson said Barriers of Belief symbolised polarised communities across the world.
“At first sight, we see these Northern Ireland traits of communal mistrust and culturally driven activities as local issues,” he said.
“But, internationally, our ‘problems’ are recognised as issues with global resonance.
“The exhibition is not about the Maze or Iraq. It is a critical exploration of wider issues.
“In Northern Ireland, it is too easy to be pigeonholed by politically sensitive people — a condition that this exhibition hopes to draw attention to.”
Barriers of Belief runs until this Saturday as part of Belfast’s Cathedral Quarter Arts Festival. A guided tour by Raymond Watson is included.
More details are available from the website www.cqaf.com.

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