Collage: A Political Act, which runs until Sunday at the Ulster Museum, features recent acquisitions by international artists such as Troy Michie, as well as works by Belfast-based Joy Gerrard and winners of the 2021 Turner Prize Array Collective.
The exhibition explores how artists use existing imagery to make bold statements that spark conversations by creating new works.
Anna Liesching, art curator at the Ulster Museum, says she wants the public to understand that collage is more than cut and paste.
“It’s not just about PVA glue and magazine clippings, it can be a lot of things.
“It’s as powerful and striking as more traditional techniques, like painting or sculpting,” she says.
“Collage is an interesting medium because it allows artists to reuse imagery to create new art, inspiring viewers to consume the pieces differently and reconsider their view of the world around them.
“I hope that Collage: a political act shows how artists have used this exciting art form to illustrate extraordinary messages that address current issues, such as reproductive rights, racism and identity.
While all art delivers a message, the medium of collage does so with immediacy, she adds.
“A fun medium that moves images across a page, it allows an artist to focus on what they are trying to communicate rather than their technique.
“This exhibition includes a lot of works that depict the protests. Indeed, the medium of collage could itself be seen as a protest against traditional methods of artistic creation.
“Collage is also about layers, and there are many layers to the stories behind these works.”
Troy Michie’s riots was the piece that inspired the exhibition.
“I acquired it for the collection in 2020 and it is a very moving work,” says Anna.
“At first glance, it’s interesting, graphic and beautiful, and when you learn about its meaning, it takes on added power, inviting a discussion about systematic racism and how people use clothing to define their identity.”
The exhibition also features Protest crowd, Charlotte, UNITED STATES, (Black Lives Matter 2016), (2017) by Joy Gerrard. Gerrard is known for his work which questions the relationships between crowds, architecture and urban landscapes.
Created with Japanese ink on linen, this striking and contemporary piece gives a sense of the consolidated power of global protest movements.
“I was very excited when I learned that my work was going to be featured in this exhibition,” says Joy.
“First of all, I’m very interested in the ideas behind it.
“I’m fascinated by how artists can take images and modify them to emphasize a message, and I love the idea of disrupting an existing image by literally tearing it apart.
“In this case, I modified the original image in many ways.
“It was enlarged, then translated to black and white and the composition was altered and stretched.”
Like Anna, Joy believes that collage, given its wide support, can be effective in communicating a message.
“I think we see different types of collage in all kinds of artistic mediums. It’s basically a mixing and gluing of different images, but it can be mixing words together or fitting pieces of film together. It doesn’t have to be a literal tearing and sticking of paper.
“We often see collages used in contemporary advertising and in films to add information or to emphasize a point.
“When it comes to art, collage is often used in a graphic way. In addition to the artists in the exhibition, such as Troy Michie or Emma Campbell, there are many who use it to make political statements. Artists like Jenny Holzer or Barbara Kruger, for example, edit texts in a very political way.
Joy’s artistic perspective from above is incredibly moving, and it’s something that she says gives audiences a lot to think about.
“In my work, I’m interested in how we relate to the crowd and the issues people are protesting against. An aerial view gives us both geographical and hierarchical context.
“How are we related to the crowd? Are we part of the crowd? Or do we see the group of people as difficult or troublesome and in need of control? I think the sights of buildings and people always provoke thought about politics and the apparatus of governance and policing.
Her article is about the Black Lives Matter movement, which she calls “a huge, universal problem.”
“I hope it gets viewers to consider the subject both locally and universally, and makes them think about humanity and the will to change an evil.
“We are, of course, very familiar with protest and politics here in Northern Ireland and it’s important to me that my work is part of that conversation.”
Although each exhibition explores a different theme, Anna thinks the logistics remain the same.
“As a curator, you manage a project with many moving parts and multiple teams that include curatorial, designers, gallery staff, marketing, artists and partner organizations, such as other museums.
“Before the launch of an exhibition, there is at least a year of research and writing, to try to find the best way to communicate to the public the ideas at the heart of the exhibition.
“At National Museums NI, our goal is to make our collections as accessible as possible, to reach new and diverse audiences, and to introduce people to new perspectives.
“I am very fortunate to work with an incredible and talented group of people, who work together to share our collection with the public.”
Joy enjoys the local arts scene just as much, describing studio arrangements in Northern Ireland as “incredible”.
She says: “They are very active and do an amazing job. They often operate on a shoestring budget to support artists, creating a thriving creative community.
“I wish these organizations had more funding and there was a more active commercial gallery sector here in Northern Ireland to promote the visibility of local artists.”
Collage: A Political Act will be on site at the Ulster Museum until May 29. Admission to the Ulster Museum and exhibition is free. For opening hours and more details, visit nmni.com