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QUEEN'S-LED BELFAST SELF-PORTRAIT EXHIBITION AT ULSTER MUSEUM        

05 July 2017

A community photography project offering a unique visual snapshot of the changing demographics of Belfast and – in the context of the post-Brexit increase in hate-crime and ongoing issues around sectarianism – will provide a positive image of the city’s growing ethnic and religious diversity.

The format of the project was initially developed by photographer Brian Homer (above right) in Birmingham in 1979, at a time of increasing anxieties about race and immigration. Developed by Homer and the photographer Timm Sonnenschein (left), this is the first time a project of this kind has run in Northern Ireland.

Funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC), the Belfast Self-Portrait Exhibition has been developed by Dr Kieran Connell (centre), a lecturer in contemporary British history and an expert in social and cultural history in the School of History, Anthropology, Philosophy and Politics at Queen’s.

Speaking at the launch, Dr Connell said: “We are delighted to have been able to bring this community photography project and exhibition to Belfast, to demonstrate how Belfast as a city has become more socially and culturally diverse.

“We hope that this exhibition will provide an historic, photographic record of a city going through a period of significant social and cultural change.  After the exhibition we will be donating the material to the Ulster Museum, where it will then become a kind of time-capsule that documents, for future generations, the changing faces of Belfast today.”

In autumn 2016, a makeshift photographic studio was set up in two widely-used spaces in Belfast – CastleCourt Shopping Centre and the Ulster Museum. Passers-by were offered the chance to come in and take their own portrait in whatever way they chose and every participant received a free print of their photograph. Over 200 members of the public participated, taking 1,000 self-portraits in total.

Now 97 images and 25 framed images are to be the subject of a new exhibition in the Belfast Room at the Ulster Museum, which will run until Sunday 3 September. All of the images taken will be donated to the Ulster Museum’s collections as part of their ‘Collecting the Troubles and Beyond’ project, which is supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund.

Commenting on the exhibition, Brian Homer said: "This project, similar to the ones we have done in Birmingham, is about showing a positive representation of the different communities in Belfast in a way that moves away from any negative stereotypes there may have been about the city.”

Reflecting on visiting Belfast Timm Sonnenschein said: “It has been a great experience to visit Belfast using the tool of photography and this particular technique of self-portraiture, offering the opportunity for participants to depict themselves as they wish to be seen, and for viewers to see them ultimately as humans in front of an open and blank canvas.

“I am very pleased that this project is taking the form of an exhibition, showing a variety of ‘everyday people’ as art."

William Blair, Director of Collections at National Museums Northern Ireland, added: “We are delighted to be a partner in this project alongside Queen’s and Castle Court Shopping Centre. This project, a first for Northern Ireland, positively depicts a growing and changing population here in Belfast, and shows the different personalities of our citizens.

"At a time when the issue of immigration continues to dominate the political conversation, the Belfast Self-Portraits Project offers an alternative perspective of a city that continues to be seen through the prism of division, conflict and disunity."

All of the images taken will be donated to the Ulster Museum’s collections as part of their ‘Collecting the Troubles and Beyond’ project, which is supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund.

'Belfast Self-Portrait' runs until Sunday 3 September 2017; admission is free and the exhibition is suitable for all age ranges.

Media enquiries to Zara McBrearty at Queen’s Communications Office on: +44 (0)28 9097 3259.

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