On Thursday night I arranged to meet up with a friend after work. Despite having spent three years completing my degree at Queen’s University, Belfast my knowledge of the city is largely confined to the student-swarmed “Botanic Bubble” in the south end of the city where the cheapest eats and grungiest bars are to be found, complete with their signature mix of O’Neills ambassadors and angel-headed hipsters. But, a few years out of uni and a set of food standards later, and these places just aren’t quite as exciting as they once seemed. Oh my god, it’s true… I’m AGING.
In an attempt to re-live our youth (as older people sometimes do) we had somewhat excitedly agreed to check out a 90’s grunge night in a new bar and catch up over the searing riffs of Heart-Shaped Box. However, in a more cultural turn of events, we discovered that Thursday March 6 was the return to Belfast of Late Night Art; a monthly event where galleries across the city remain open until 9pm to showcase new exhibitions and artist talks. Change of plans, sorry Kurt.
Belfast, and its arts scene in particular, has definitely evolved in the few years I have been away, and it’s wonderful to see such support for local artists, from both the city and its residents. I was genuinely taken aback by the range of conceptual art and exhibition spaces on offer as we meandered through the cobbled Cathedral Quarter. From Kara Walker’s harrowing graphite sketches of black American history in the MAC, to Sarah Maple’s contemporary bold take on feminism with pieces such as ‘Snow White the Scientist’ in the Golden Thread Gallery, the night was visually stimulating from beginning to end (potentially enhanced by a few complimentary glasses of wine!).
Below are a few of my favourite pieces from the night. First is Kara Walker’s installation which unmercifully portrays the violence and suffering endured during the American Civil War. Her work is haunting, and at times gruesome, but undeniably provokes a startling reaction, which is one of art’s core societal values, in my opinion.
Secondly, was this particular piece from Sarah Maple‘s “God is a Feminist” exhibition. “INACTION IS A WEAPON OF MASS DESTRUCTION” read whilst staring in the harsh light at one’s own reflection in a beveled mirror is an unsettling experience, but an extremely inspirational one too.
With International Women’s Day approaching on March 8 a lot of the work on show this month has been dedicated to the projection and interpretation of feminism and celebrating female artists. This got our group into discussions about what it means to be a feminist in today’s society. The topic undoubtedly deserves much more than a solitary sentence in a blog post, but to summarize we concluded that although only one quarter of Americans identify themselves as feminists (according to last year’s Economist poll), this alarmingly low figure is ultimately more resultant of the extreme connotations of the word, rather than a discredit to equality between the sexes. If the term “feminism” was simply perceived as political, social and economic equality between men and women I would like to believe the statistics would be extremely different.
With an increased focus on arts and culture in recent years through the opening of the MAC (Metropolitan Arts Centre) in 2012 and numerous other projects, it’s fantastic to see Belfast diversifying and supporting its own local talent, as well as providing a platform for other artists to showcase their work to an influential and eager Northern Irish audience. The buzz around Late Night Art was infectious and provided me with a lot of timely inspiration and encouragement.
When properly appreciated, conceptual art has the power to evoke powerful feelings and stimulating conversations between everyone from strangers to close friends; it has the power to inspire, to teach and to communicate what sometimes can’t be accurately expressed through words.
Belfast needs art, and art needs Belfast. Whilst our country’s turbulent history cannot, nor ever should be forgotten, it is beautiful to watch, encourage and participate as we evolve into a new and forward-thinking city full of cultural diversity and inspiration around every corner.
Lots of love, K.