Inside Stories; Memories from the Maze and Long Kesh Prison

Essay from the exhibition brochure by Dr. Louise Purbrick, Faculty of Arts and Architecture, University of Brighton.

Image-making accompanies war but most images are not adopted by communities directly involved in conflict. The production of visual short-hands for perpetrator and victim is the mainstay of war reporting: the evil terrorist, the courageous soldier, the dutiful policeman, the reluctant prison warder, the innocent family. Such images, which constantly present and re-present the enemy, the protector and those just caught up in the middle have played their part in perpetuating the conflicts all over the world and have always hidden the particular histories, beliefs and just circumstances of the people upon which these stereotypes purport to be based.

Cahal McLaughlin’s Inside Stories moves beyond the stereotypes associated with ‘the icon of the Troubles’: a republican prisoner, a loyalist prisoner and a prison officer at Long Kesh/Maze. His work, however, does more than fill in the hidden human details of familiar figures; it investigates the effect of place upon memory, how returning to Long Kesh and walking within its spaces makes it possible to remember details, past experiences, emotions. Access to sites of history is crucially important here. The accounts of Billy Hutchinson, Gerry Kelly and Dessie Waterworth are generated by their encounter with place significant to them rather than prompted by the questions of a journalist or the agenda of a politician. The resulting film sequences are not quite unmediated, there are occasional moments when each perform for McLaughln’s camera, but their words and movements are not filtered through the ‘balanced sectariansm’ that still shapes most representations of the conflict.

Giving testimony, being allowed the space to relate personal experiences of oppression and violence is widely accepted as an essential component of a conflict-resolution process. Although it is now eleven years since the cease-fires and seven since the signing of the Good Friday Agreement, open debate about telling the histories of the conflict, about how it is differently remembered and how those differences can be incorporated into official or unofficial records has taken place, for the most part, in art galleries and museums. Cahal McLaughlin is one of number of artists, photographers and film-makers that have taken up the responsibility of how to create imagery that could contribute to a process of conflict-resolution. Inside Stories raises some of the most pressing questions about the role of testimony in the aftermath of war. Should all voices be heard? How? In what forum? What does listening to the testimonies of unresolved differences reveal?