A new exhibition opens later tomorrow (Thurs) in west Belfast featuring poems and paintings by two former loyalist prisoners.
Bobby Niblock and Geordie Morrow both served time as UVF prisoners in Long Kesh and the Crumlin Road Gaol, but it is their artistic convictions that now define them.
This exhibition at the Cultúrlann centre displays Niblock’s poetry, even though his main creative work so far has been for the theatre.
His debut play ‘Reason to Believe’ was performed in August 2009, followed by his larger, more ambitious ‘Tartan’, which ran at the MAC and community venues in May 2014. A production of Etcetera Theatre Company, it depicted the rise of the Tartan gangs and their shift in to loyalist paramilitary groups, and was praised for its energy, dialogue and honesty.
The poems included in this exhibition explore a different time: Niblock’s childhood and adolescence in Laganville-Ravenhill/Woodstock Road. They represent the sights, sounds, and smells of his schooldays, the breaks from – and during – school, as well as working-class life remembered ‘through young eyes’.
These unpublished poems are illustrated by 12 never-before displayed images from Morrow. Though under the theme of ‘Orange and Green’ they are more expansive than this, reflecting Morrow’s influences (including Turner and Jack B. Yeats) and his dazzling eye for scenery and human portrait.
A painting of Morrow’s appeared in the acclaimed ‘Art of the Troubles’ exhibition at the Ulster Museum three years ago, and two of the larger pieces here are to be dedicated to the late Loyalist leaders David Ervine and William ‘Plum’ Smith (Ervine died of a heart attack in January 2007 and Smith succumbed to illness in June 2016).
The exhibition’s setting in an establishment on the Falls Road is telling, representing a space which could not be more different to the loyalist backgrounds of these two men. It highlights the way the arts and literature often succeed in crossing boundaries many of our politicians refuse to negotiate. It is also testament to the wider journeys of Morrow and Niblock: from paramilitaries to artists.
The official launch of this exhibition, part of the Féile an Phobhail festival, is at 5pm Thursday. It will run for one month and is not to be missed.
• Dr Connal Parr is an academic who specialises in Protestant working-class politics and culture, and serves on the board of the Etcetera theatre company