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From the Hugh Lane Gallery Exhibition Archive 2011 #flashbackfriday returns to: Civil Rights etc. Rita Donagh and Richard Hamilton
In 2011 the Hugh Lane Gallery held the first ever joint exhibition of two iconic British artists, Rita Donagh (b.1939) and Richard Hamilton (1922-2011), who together shared a concern for human rights and justice. Curated by Barbara Dawson, ‘Civil Rights etc.’ was to be Richard’s last exhibition before he died on 12th September 2011. Following on discussions between Barbara and Richard, it transpired that Richard wanted this to be a joint exhibition with Rita Donagh to illuminate in two entirely separate visual languages, their deeply felt concerns and commentaries on political and social affairs. ‘Civil Rights etc.’ explored their responses to current events, social conflict and global warfare. The exhibition featured works responding to the 2nd Iraq War including ‘Shock and Awe’ (2007-08), ‘War Games’ (2009-10) and ‘Maps of Palestine’ (2009-10) comparing the original 1947 UN partition of lands between Israel and Palestine with the actual status in 2010, as well as the ‘Swingeing London’ series from the 70’s showing the arrest of Mick Jagger and art dealer Robert Fraser.
In 1983, Rita’s exhibition at the Orchard Gallery, Derry, comprised an enquiry into the practices of prisoners and Government in Long Kesh Prison in Northern Ireland. Richard credits his interest in the Troubles in Northern Ireland to Rita. In ‘Civil Rights etc.’, Rita’s works included some of the most potent visual responses to the Troubles including ‘Bystander’ (1977), ‘After the Talbot Street Blast’ (1974) and ‘Six Counties’ (1983) and were joined by the powerful and now iconic series of three diptychs ‘The Citizen’ (1981-83), ‘The State’ (1993) and ‘The Subject’ (1988-90) by Richard - the first time these paintings were exhibited in Ireland. We also recreated the ‘Treatment Room’ (1984), originally curated by Michael Regan. Richard created a hospital room with a bedlike trolley, blanket askew, dominated by the image of Margaret Thatcher on a T.V monitor suspended over the bed repeatedly playing a clip from her 1983 Conservative Party Election Broadcast. Richard’s text accompanying this installation asked “Is the vision of Mrs. Thatcher patronising a victim of the health service part of the future we once thought so bright?”
Rita Donagh and Richard Hamilton met during their time at the University of Durham, Newcastle-upon-Tyne in the mid-1950s where Richard was teaching his pioneering Basic Course in the Fine Art Department of the University and Rita was a student of fine art. Rita would later become a tutor at the University. In the 1950s Richard was a leading member of the Independent Group and crucially was part of the collaborative exhibition ‘This Is Tomorrow’ at the Whitechapel Art Gallery, in London, 1956. From early on, Rita was concerned with both social and political subject matter and how it is represented by the media with a focus on the political unrest in Northern Ireland and her concern for the future of Ireland. Both artists presented transparent and unflinching visual commentaries on conflict issues which were appropriated and manipulated by different vested interests.
‘Civil Rights etc’ was a major exhibition and showcased over 50 works from 1960s to 2011. The works displayed were primarily related to Ireland, but also to seminal moments of social change in recent history. This included the IRA Regent’s Park bombing, the Gulf War and Kent State University shooting in 1970 as a result of President Nixon’s decision to send in the US National Guard against its own citizens, (recently repeated by President Trump in Washington at the #BLM protests). This event is captured in Richard’s documentation series ‘Kent State’ (1970) and Rita’s ‘Reflection on three weeks in May’ (1970). For our exhibition Richard also made a new work entitled ‘Release relief’ (2011) completed just days before he passed away. This work was part of his ‘Swingeing London’ series that questioned the British establishments attempt to quell personal freedom.
Also featured in this exhibition was Rita’s, ‘Newsprint’ (1978) collage which was donated to the Hugh Lane Gallery Collection from the artist and can be viewed here. This work was specially chosen by Richard and Rita to be the front cover image to their catalogue for this exhibition and illustrated the significance to the artists of the potency of this image. In this work Rita explores the public territories of Ireland as represented through the press and mass media. We see an emerging process in the way she gradually begins to make an appearance as “the artist” in her work, a real, human presence rather than an absent, invisible creator. It is a useful reminder of the responsibilities of the artist to the happening world. Part of that responsibility relates to the issue of who has agency.
For more information please visit http://www.hughlane.ie/past/413-civil-rights-etc