Seen To Be HeardStudio Gallery
28th Apr 2022 to 21st May 2022
About The Exhibition
Belfast Exposed presents ‘Seen To Be Heard’ by award-winning photographer Jennifer Willis, featuring portraits of women from Northern Ireland living with a Secondary Breast Cancer diagnosis.
Seen To Be Heard is an award-winning and ground-breaking work of artistry & activism that is driving a sea change in the way Secondary Breast Cancer is perceived in Northern Ireland. Through photography, film, education and advocacy, the project has become a platform for women to stand in solidarity in the face of incredible adversity while campaigning for better care and equality for future generations.
Started in late 2021 in her Belfast studio, photographer Jennifer Willis brought together an initial community of 16 women from a wide variety of backgrounds. What united these women was their shared diagnosis of Secondary Breast Cancer – an incurable form of breast cancer that has spread to another part of the body – and frustration at the situation they found themselves in. Placing empathy and understanding at the centre of her work, Willis developed a strong bond with participants and turned her studio into a safe, welcoming space where her subjects could feel comfortable long before any photographs were taken. Willis deliberately chose her approach to colour, composition and content to give an honest, but sympathetic platform to the voices of her subjects.
The exhibition reflects the struggle, and courage of those who are living daily with a Secondary Breast Cancer diagnosis.
The women involved are united in their passion to educate the public on the need to transform Secondary Cancer Care Services. In Seen To Be Heard, they do so visually in a series of photographic portraits and a deeply moving testimonial film. This has been paired with a programme of talks, events, and private viewings with key stakeholders from the world of politics, culture & media, all to educate, inform and advocate.
Jennifer Willis and the Seen To Be Heard participants are calling for greater representation for those with Secondary Breast Cancer in Northern Ireland’s Cancer strategy. Their initial demands included a clinical audit; access to clinical trials as well as to drugs and treatments available in other regions of the UK; specialist nurse care in all parts of Northern Ireland and access to timely, equitable and person-centred care.
First shown at Belfast Exposed from 28th April to 21st May 2022, Seen To Be Heard has already had a significant impact on both a local and regional level. Not only through the generation of significant media and public interest, but also through direct engagement with key stakeholders across the island of Ireland.
In August 2022, Cancer Focus NI announced that ‘As a direct result of the SEEN TO BE HEARD Campaign, Cancer Focus NI have pledged to fund a Secondary Breast Cancer Audit which will be carried out by the Northern Ireland Cancer Registry. This is a crucial step in ensuring that data is collected and used to inform policy, clinical practice and support of people living with Secondary Breast Cancer here in Northern Ireland’.
Seen To Be Heard also serves as a visual testimony for participants. They are leaving it behind for friends, family & loved ones as a deeply personal legacy, that exists alongside the public legacy of education and change they are creating. Through photography, film, education and advocacy, the project has become a platform for women to stand in solidarity in the face of incredible adversity while campaigning for better care and equality for future generations.
With the support of Belfast Exposed, Seen To Be Heard has toured to several locations since May 2022. This included a showing at the Lake Side Arts Centre in Nottingham from the 8th – the 30th of October 2022 and the Wood Quay Buildings, Dublin from the 7th – the 13th of November 2022 as part of Dublin City Council’s Inclusion and Integration Week.
In September 2022, Jennifer Willis was awarded the Forestside Choice Award at the Arts & Business Northern Ireland Awards for Seen To Be Heard.
Further touring shows are planned for the future, including a run at the Strule Arts Centre, Omagh from 5th - 28th January 2022.
Deirdre Robb, Director of Belfast Exposed said:
“This has been a very special project to work on and one of the most important exhibitions Belfast Exposed has done. Jennifer’s talent is evident through the raw and evocative portraits of the women. Through these works and the manifesto, Seen To Be Heard exemplifies how art can be used to educate and becomes a bridge to deal with difficult topics.”
Professor Mark Lawler, who is pivotal in supporting the All-Island Cancer Research Institute says:
"This beautiful but thought-provoking and challenging exhibition captures the reality of living with cancer and we need to make sure that their message resonates so that there are clear actions on addressing the challenges of secondary breast cancer. I sincerely hope that this will be reflected in the new Northern Ireland Cancer Strategy and its implementation so that we deliver the optimum standard of care for all women with secondary breast cancer in Northern Ireland"
You can also hear from Photographer Jennifer Willis on her thoughts on the exhibition in her Artist Profile.
For more information please visit: www.seentobeheard.com
Jennifer Willis, Belfast born, and educated at Methodist College Belfast, excelled in music and sport. With an evolving curiosity and interest in human rights she graduated with a BSSC Hons. in Politics & Sociology from Queen's University Belfast.
Her interest in photography began about 17 years ago during a prolonged period of illness when it became a way for Jennifer to continue to be involved in sport with her family. However, since joining Catchlight Camera Club in Belfast just over 3 years ago her development as a photographer has excelled. She is already a multi-award winning photographer across several genres in both National and International photographic exhibitions favouring sport (particularly rugby) and portraiture.
In 2021 she produced a panel of photographs telling the story of a small dog shelter in the south of Spain. It successfully gained her an Associateship in both the Royal Photographic Society (ARPS) and the Irish Photographic Federation (AIPF). She has also gained Distinction in the Photographic Alliance of Great Britain (DPAGB).
As an artist, it is the narrative of her subjects and a desire to capture something of the story hidden within that has most inspired her photography. Her recent body of work has taken this to a new level with this remarkable exhibition of portraits of women living with Secondary Breast Cancer.
Jennifer describes these portraits as raw, powerful, yet sensitive and revealing. Getting to know the women before even lifting the camera was key to ensuring authenticity. In this time critical project, commencing Nov 2021 she created a reassuring sanctuary in the studio, building trust, enabling the women to be themselves whilst drawing out the inner truth in front of the camera.
It was emotionally challenging, requiring empathy, patience and a great deal of sensitivity. As an artist, Jennifer aimed to show the physical and emotional costs of the treatment and surgeries that these women endure and quite simply, cannot live without.
The effect on the artist herself bearing witness to these harsh realities amidst their desire to live every moment to the full, has been profound.
Thursday 28th April | 6:00pm - 9:00pm | Belfast ExposedFree
5th May 2022 | 6pm | Belfast ExposedFree
12th May 2022 | 6pm | Belfast ExposedFree
Seen To Be Heard has been supported by Cancer Trials Ireland, All Island Cancer Research Institute, Wex, Montgomery Refrigeration, Northside, Dublin Learning City, Cork Learning City, Belfast Learning City, Derry and Strabane learning City, Limerick Learning City, Northern Ireland Mental Health Association, Arts Council of Northern Ireland and funded by Belfast City Council.