Hidden Truths

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Memorial banners
Painted portraits of the victims of Bloody Sunday, Fahan Street, Derry.

Photograph by Bill Rolston, 1992.

Curatorial Statement

Bloody Sunday as an event has been hidden in so many ways.

On a public level the initial Widgery Enquiry, was a speedy rush to judgement, designed to bury the facts and lay blame on those clearly innocent; the wounds on the community ran so deep, that talk of that afternoon was rare. To trespass was to not understand. Yet, Bloody Sunday was commemorated, a ritual, year in year out as people walked the route again and again on cold January Sundays; but rituals or monuments don't necessarily promote healing. It is not that the desire is not there, it's more that the history of lies and misinformation and obfuscation prevent it. As a curator I also became an investigator. To comprehend the event I had to piece together images of that afternoon, to map out the journey of each individual. I had to understand the geographic relationship between Glenfada Park and the car park of the Rossville Flats, not just names but physical spaces that explained the story. My search for material took me to newspaper archives, warehouses, lawyer's filing cabinets, British government archives and family albums. This exhibit addresses both the event itself as well as the role of photography as witness within our culture. What criteria does one adopt in selecting images of murder? What function does aesthetic judgement play? Where do those values belong? On view in this exhibition and reproduced in the catalogue are images of surveillance, distant, taken from above the panic. Images made by visiting international photojournalists, there for the moment, then gone. Furtive images captured out of windows by frightened residents, not believing what they were seeing in their own back yard, and local amateur photographers, expecting to document a march and ending up with harrowing pictures of a massacre. Images, 8mm film images taken by a young man, before his own death is also photographed. Images from albums, of young and older men, who belonged to fourteen families and whose portraits become their own family album in death, transformed from snap to gable wall, to banner portrait.

The fourteen large hand painted portrait banners, I first saw on the front page of a newspaper in Mexico City, twenty-five years after the event itself; held one next to the other in front of the ancient walls of Derry. These portraits with their backs turned on this symbol of sectarianism, looking down on the last scene that they saw, into the community from where they came.

With these banners are personal belongings, loaned to us by the victims' families. Displayed in vitrines, they represent traces of their lives, a tie, a candy bar, a notebook, the contents of a man's pocket.

Through this coming together, of image, banner and object a strange process has taken place, one that we could not have understood before we began the journey. In remembering and giving space to these fourteen men, a dignity has been restored which was taken away that day over twenty-seven years ago and robbed again by Widgery. Hidden Truths: Bloody Sunday one might say accidentally has created an opportunity for those who were there, to speak out. For many it is the first time, a lifetime away, yet remembered as though it were yesterday.

In the context of the present peace process, and the future for the people living in the North of Ireland, how the events of Bloody Sunday are interpreted in the present is crucial. This new Saville Enquiry will set an important precedent, for the people in the North of Ireland, either inspiring trust and a desire to move forward or reinforcing a mistrust in government which has festered and grown over two generations. How history is understood in the context of the present is a significant aspect of the healing process in Ireland. People from both communities have been the victims of atrocities and the nationalist community have in particular born the brunt of the British Army occupation. Bloody Sunday was a water shed in recent Irish history, these events nearly thirty years ago caused many people to come to the conclusion that civil protest would never bring about change, many reluctantly chose to take up armed intervention as a direct result of what occurred in Derry that Sunday.

This new enquiry bears the burden of addressing history -- of making those responsible for the events of Bloody Sunday take responsibility for their actions and give a legitimate voice to those who were damaged and destroyed by the events in Derry that day. The conclusion of the Saville Report, will either inspire this community to put the past behind them allowing the possibility for people to move on with their lives, or will cause these open wounds to continue to fester in a deeper mistrust and cynicism. The conclusions of the Saville Report have as much to do with acknowledging the past as they do with supporting a future.

This exhibition looks at Bloody Sunday, Derry, Ireland 1972. It could also be of other events or other places. It addresses issues of memory and photography and their inter-relationship and function. We look at newspapers and magazines each day and live comfortably with a myth that the lens transforms and that photographers are the bearers of our truth or that their presence even can prevent atrocities, when even the opposite is also true. Yet images as these are spewed out into our lives on a regular basis and little changes. Bloody Sunday occurred in front of an international press corps of photographers, journalists and film-makers and yet it still happened: not at night but on a Sunday afternoon, not during a riot but during a peaceful demonstration. What do we learn from this? What is the power of the state? What is the power of an image? Where do these images, artifacts and objects belong? In an art gallery or museum? As a monument? Or here and there for now, later returned to the page now empty in a family album, or that draw upstairs, wrapped carefully in tissue, or in an archive categorized for posterity? Finally, where do we place ourselves as viewer, as outsider in the midst of all this?

Trisha Ziff
Curator


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