Silver Liberties: A Souvenir of a Wonderful Anniversary Year

© By Conrad Atkinson

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The first panel shows photos of the 13 people killed on Bloody Sunday and a blood-stained banner that was carried on the day of the march. The second panel shows a cartoon of a British soldier copied from graffiti on a wall in Belfast. The third panel shows photographs of street scenes in Belfast depicting mostly pro-loyalist symbols. The fourth panel is separated from the others by a line of barbed wire, and show photographs of a man allegedly beaten up by police for being an IRA suspect, and a quote by Shelley.

“Some three years lacer, the Belfast public became reacquainted with Conrad Atkinson, through his large painting, 6’ x 12: of oils, acrylic and collage on canvas, entitled “Silver Liberties: A souvenir of a wonderful year"· which was included in an exhibition “Art for Society”, arranged by the Arts Council for the 1978 Queen’s University Arts Festival. The exhibition was initiated and organised by the Whitechapel Gallery in London, which at the time, was directed by Nicholas Serota, now Director of the Tate Gallery.
The Whitechapel Gallery presented exhibitions of national and international significance, throughout the 20th Century and was one of the first galleries in the early thirties to show the work of Henry Moore and the fist public gallery in Britain in the 195O’s to show American Abstract Expressionist paintings.

The Whitechapel Gallery takes pride in its long history of productive engagement with local audiences and with the politics of London’s East End. “Art for Society” extended and deepened that engagement.

Artists throughout the United Kingdom were invited to submit work and about 100 works were selected by a panel of distinguished judges. The exhibition, which was in a wide range of media, but mainly two dimensional. embraced topics which included poverty, discrimination, violence. rape. racism. pollution and corruption.

Lord Mellchett, who was the Minister responsible at the Northern Ireland Office for the Arts, visited the exhibition in London to prepare his scheduled address at the Ulster Museum. The Whitechapel exhibition was well received by the public and the press, reviews provided the Minister with adequate copy to enliven his opening speech.

At the end of the London showing the exhibition was packed crated and transported to Belfast and was un packed by the Ulster Museum attendants, who when they saw the images, refused to handle or hang the work. The Museum’s Board of Trustees were informed of this refusal and after a hasty meeting they agreed with the initial attendant objections, that many of the works Should. in their view, be eliminated from the exhibition. The majority of the attendants were opposed to this censorship, since the exhibition was financially sponsored by the London Chapter of their union, which locally was in wage negotiations on their behalf.


The demands from the trustees of the Ulster Museum and their denial of creative freedom increased the gulf with the Arts Council and both parties issued public position statements to the media. Howvere the Museum’s Keeper of Art and its Art Department and most other curatorial staff opposed the Trustee’s stated stance.”

Brian Ferran, “Emerging from the Grey Mists”, Introduction to Conrad Atkinson Exhibition catalogue for “Some wounds healing; Some birds singing”, 2007

The 1978 exhibition was shown , split over two venues: The Ulster Museum and the Arts Council Gallery. “Silver Liberties: A souvenir of a wonderful year” has been shown in Belfast in more recent years, at the Golden Thread Gallery and at the Ulster Museum.

Copyright courtesy of the artist (representation: Ronald Feldman Fine Art NYC)

Image courtesy of Wolverhampton Art Gallery: WAVE

Further Infomation


Acrylic and Mixed Media on Canvas


4 panels, each 137.2 x 213.4cm




Collection of Wolverhampton Art Gallery: WAVE