After becoming the first Northern Irish artists to receive the Turner Prize last week in Coventry, the 11-artist Belfast-based group Array Collective championed social issues in a recent statement, despite online aesthetic critiques of its winning artwork – a recreated pub. Using its platform to “help ignite progress for the collective good,” the group wrote “even when we make important gains there are still people left in the margins.”
“Abortion may have been monumentally decriminalised however access is still blocked by the NI Assembly and families are still travelling to England. Access to HIV medicine and trans healthcare, as well as LGBT inclusive or consent driven sex and relationship education is still pitiful, and we desperately need to ban conversion therapy immediately… The Irish language is central to the re-establishment of a stolen identity, we need them to Acht Anois. The generational trauma from a conflict resulting in one of the highest suicide rates in the UK, over 25 per cent higher, yet we get the lowest mental health funding across the islands.”
Array Collective’s winning work, The Druithaib’s Ball, comprises an immersive installation, for which the group recreated an imagined síbín or “pub without permission”, featuring a canopy styled from political protest banners and a TV showing Northern Ireland Screen’s Digital Film Archive. The síbín is approached through a circle of flag poles, referencing ancient Irish ceremonial sites and contemporary structures. According to Array Collective: “The Druthaib’s Ball embodies the complexities that distinguish our Northern Irish/Irish identities, honouring the personal experiences of existence and resistance, despite a litany of human rights abuses against us." It is currently on display at Herbert Art Gallery & Museum until the 12 January.
Array Collective was not alone in their activist, community-driven practice among this year’s Turner nominees – Cooking Sections, B.O.S.S., Project Art Works, and Gentle/Radical. This year the shortlist was “composed entirely of artist collectives and artist groups who are committed to community collaboration and local-global change,” wrote Chenine Bhathena, creative director of Coventry City of Culture Trust.
Since the winner was announced, art critics have condemned the decision to shortlist collectives with a strong social message; “this year’s prize has put aesthetic achievement pretty low on its list of ‘values’” wrote a previous juror for the Turner Prize in The Guardian. While criticisms levied at Array Collective’s pub installation derided the artwork for its “soft impact”, Irish art curator Declan McGonagle noted in response: “[It’s] not the first time unconscious colonialism has been evident in metropolitan responses to things Northern Irish.” Ultimately, the judges awarded the group the coveted prize for its “hopeful and dynamic artwork which addresses urgent social and political issues affecting Northern Ireland with humour, seriousness and beauty.”
Array Collective: The Druithaib’s Ball (Copyright © Matt Alexander/PA Wire, 2021)
About the Author
Liz (she/they) joined It’s Nice That as news writer in December 2021. After graduating in Film from The University of Bristol, she worked freelance, writing for independent publications such as Little White Lies, INDIE magazine and design studio Evermade.