By Scott Jamison

An artist who once had a painting banned from a South Belfast gallery has said he feels “closure” after his work was finally displayed in Belfast last week.

English artist Conrad Atkinson’s Troubles-based painting Silver Liberties was banned from the Ulster Museum in 1978 after the porters refused to hang it claiming it supported the IRA. The trustees of the museum backed the porters’ opinion thus the work was banned from the museum.

Now over three decades later and having hung in the Wolverhampton Art Gallery since, the painting has finally made its way to the city, being displayed in the Golden Thread Gallery in the city centre until December.

Conrad said although he had “mixed feelings” about his past and the city’s art scene, he was delighted to finally see Silver Liberties displayed here.

“I definitely feel like I’m getting there and it’s good so many people have shown an interest in getting the painting put up here. It’s a terrible word but it definitely feels like some closure.

“The fact there has been so much concern about this is astonishing and kind of gratifying. When the work was sent to Northern Ireland in 1978 I remember saying there would be trouble but I didn’t think it would last 30 years.”

Silver Liberties consists of four panels on a background of the Irish tricolour. One panel contains photos of the Bloody Sunday victims and the blood-stained Civil Rights banner that was carried on the day of the march; one shows a cartoon of a British soldier; another is of photographs of street scenes in Belfast depicting pro-loyalist symbols, and the final panel, separated from the others by a line of barbed wire, shows photographs of a man beaten up by police.

It is being displayed as part of an exhibition called Tears in the Rain, which also features work by artists including South Belfast’s Rita Duffy. Despite his joy, Conrad admitted part of him still wanted to see the piece in the Ulster Museum one day.

“It shows what a missed opportunity the Ulster Museum had when it reopened a few years ago. It could have reflected the vibrant cultures of the region.

“As a conciliatory gesture I offered them my original drawings of the painting when it reopened but I heard nothing from them. I’ve always said art is a pretty ugly business and this is proof of it.”

Belfast Media Group Managing Director Máirtín Ó Muilleoir, who is curating the exhibition at the Golden Thread Gallery, said it was “highly significant” that the work was finally here.

“It’s a milestone in the city’s move towards peace, we are working to right a wrong. It’s a piece of art which is against violence. People need to come and look at it. I hope they’ll appreciate it as a show about peace rather than politics.”

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