Belfast Exposed


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25th Sep - 7th Oct

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21st May - 22nd May

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Re-Imagining Treason

Gallery 2

6th Oct 2022 to 19th Nov 2022

About The Exhibition

In Re-Imagining Treason, Mhairi Sutherland combines research and lens-based media to explore imperialism and nationalism. Representing a long-standing artistic interrogation of the subject, this work is also part of Sutherland’s interest in the contestations and contradictions of Irish-British cultural identity.

Sutherland’s work takes the form of a sea journey, a photographic archive and connected historical narratives. It takes inspiration from the words and lives of Erskine Childers and Mary Spring Rice. Sutherland’s work draws threads of connection between the two, in the wider context of Irish Nationalism in the early-20th century.

Childers was an English born writer - with family links to the Anglo-Irish aristocracy - whose 1903 novel The Riddle of the Sands was one of the first spy novels. An incredibly popular book, its plot also caused contemporary debate about national defence. It was later credited by Winston Churchill as the reason behind the British government’s establishment of new naval bases and coastal fortifications. The Riddle of the Sands is the first textural inspiration for Sutherland’s work.

Despite his background and early career, Childers went on to become an Irish Republican and Nationalist TD.

Spring Rice, also from an Anglo-Irish background, was an Irish nationalist activist known for her involvement with Conradh na Gaeilge and taking part in the 1914 Howth-gun running about the yacht Asgard. Spring Rice’s written record of the gun running - recorded in the Asgard’s log book - is the second textural inspiration for this work.

What links these two individuals and texts, so that they can combine to inspire Re-Imagining Treason? Both Childers and Spring Rice were from Anglo-Irish backgrounds and became nationalist activists. Childers’ book caused changes to British coastal defenses in the lead up to the First World War. Yet, as Spring Rice’s testimony details, the Howth gun-running was able to circumvent these, using a civilian pleasure yacht. And the yacht in question, was in fact owned and sailed by Erskine Childers and his wife, Molly. Childers therefore, was in part responsible for delivering weapons later used in the 1916 Easter Rising.

During the Irish Civil War, Childers was part of the anti-Treaty faction that opposed the new Irish Provisional Government. In 1922, he was arrested and charged with possession of an illegal firearm. This was - under the martial law in the Free State at the time - a capital offence.

Childers was found guilty and subsequently executed for treason on 24th November, 1922.

Re-Imaged Treason therefore explores narratives written in different contexts, forms and a decade apart, to connected the coastal littoral of the Friesian Islands – where The Riddle of the Sands is set - the Childers photographic archives in Trinity College Dublin and the Royal Museums Greenwich, where the Asgard’s logbook is held.

Welcoming the exhibition, Belfast Exposed CEO Deirdre Robb said:

'The themes examined by Mhairi Sutherland in this work are of continued relevance. Addressing questions of nationalism, imperialism and the contradictory nature of Irish-British identity in a unique way, 'Re-Imagining Treason' shows how a a mixture of lens-based media can be combined to tell a compelling story that asks us to examine important themes in a new light' 

The Artists

Mhairi Sutherland

Artist Biography

Mhairi Sutherland is a visual artist based in Derry/Londonderry, working in lens-based media, drawing and installation practice. Sutherland was awarded a PhD in 2012 from the Dublin Institute of Technology (TU Dublin) and an MFA (Distinction) from the University of Ulster, Belfast (1994-96). She is also a former Director of the Void Art Gallery Board, Derry (2006-14).

Recent solo exhibitions include Haptic (2021) and Gemini Wild Tulips Gallery, (2020) Genesis Lost, Artlink, Inishowen (2019) and an exhibition residency After the Blacksmith (2018) Leitrim Sculpture Centre, Manorhamilton. Selected group exhibitions and commissions include as invited artist, LOVEARTBUYART, Golden Thread Gallery, Belfast (2020) the Hasselblad Foundation and Valand Academy, Sweden commission for Drone Vision: Warfare, Surveillance and Protest, a tri-partite exhibition in Gothenberg, Lahore and Nicosia in May 2018 and a 1418NOW and Golden Thread Gallery commission for PRONTO ‘Radio Relay’ UK cultural programme (2016).

Sutherland has been involved with collaboration, social engagement and site-specific projects as a member of Sitework Public Art team, Orchard Gallery, Derry (1988-89), a founding member of artists’ group Not in Kansas, Glasgow (1998-2003) and currently a member of LOCI (2014-) a group of women artists, researchers and writers.

Her artwork has been included in numerous group exhibitions and is represented in private and public collections nationally and internationally.


'Re-Imagining Treason' at Belfast Exposed is generously supported by the Arts Council of Northern Ireland and Belfast City Council