In October we installed three new display cases in the Troubles gallery at the Ulster Museum, to launch the Collecting the Troubles and Beyond project and to invite people to make their own contributions. Two of the cases are designed to showcase our recent acquisitions and we hope this will give visitors a sense of the project and the direction we are taking. The third case is divided into two sides, the first relating to the height of the violence in the early 1970s and the other recognising the achievements of medal winners Mary Peters (1972 Olympics) and Mairead Corrigan (1976 Nobel Peace Prize).
As well as working on the redevelopment of the ‘Troubles’ gallery at the Ulster Museum we are co-producing a number of parallel exhibitions. In March this year we launched a temporary exhibition in the Ulster Museum entitled Gay Life and Liberation: A Photographic Record from 1970s Belfast. The exhibition was developed in partnership with Rachel Wallace, a Ph.D. candidate from Queen’s University, and is based on the photographs of Douglas Sobey. Douglas helped found Cara-Friend in 1974 and remained an officer there for 30 years. His collection of photographs, which he has donated to the museum, documents the experiences of the LGBT community during the 1970s, their campaign for legal rights and the development of organisations like Cara-Friend. They also capture important social events and the resilience of the LGBT community at that time.
The project also supported a temporary exhibition at the Ulster Folk and Transport Museum entitled Barricades to Bus Passes; Fifty years of Ulsterbus. During the Troubles more than 800 Ulsterbus vehicles were destroyed. Many were hijacked and set on fire creating barricades across public roads. On Bloody Friday bombs exploded across Belfast city centre, including at the three bus stations. At Oxford Street, six people were killed and many more injured.
The traumatic events of the years after 1968 touched almost everyone who lived here and many others from further afield. Inevitably the interpretation of these events is contested in terms of significance, meaning and responsibility. We are actively encouraging dialogue on the subject and organising events that enable us to explore important aspects of interpreting contested history. On 25 November we held a seminar day on the theme of Difficult Objects. The aim of the event was to explore the sensitivities involved in interpreting conflict, whether there are any objects too emotive or controversial to display and the mechanisms for presenting difficult objects in a balanced and ethical way. Speakers included Dr Maruška Svašek from Queen’s University Belfast, Kate Turner from Healing Through Remembering and Nicolas Vanderpeet from the Imperial War Museum in London.
The project is designed to provide a platform for engagement and for the exhibition to evolve in line with that, rather than be presented a finished product. We view this as a process. The next stage of gallery redevelopment will take place this autumn.
If you would like to contribute to the Collecting the Troubles and Beyond project please contact me Karen.Logan