Rita Duffy is one of Northern Ireland’s ground breaking artists who began her work concentrating primarily on the figurative / narrative tradition.
However not content with the restrictions of a limited gallery situation she soon evolved art projects that placed her work in a “community context”. The Drawing the Blinds Project at Divis Flats, was a major public art project. Using a reinvention of traditional portraiture she delivered a large scale project that gave voice to the residents of the tower block. It remains one of the few Belfast art projects that attracted national television coverage.
Duffy set up the Integrated Arts project at the new RVH Children’s Hopsital, winning a position for the artist on design teams, alongside other professionals, architects and engineers, designing and forming our built environment. She was made an Hon. Member of the RSUA for this work. Duffy worked with Todd Architects developing an integrated art project for the new Public Record Office of Northern Ireland building in Titanic Quarter.
She describes her work as “deeply rooted in the Ulster experience”. In 2004 she formed the Thaw Ltd. with film producer Margo Harkin, to facilitate a public artwork which aims to bring an iceberg to Belfast.
Duffy’s work has grown and evolved, collaboratively working across art forms with writers and theatre professionals. Duffy’s preoccupation with watchtowers and the landscape of surveillance has continued to the present day and a major solo exhibition of her “Watchtower paintings”, was held in the Spectrum Gallery in London – Rita Duffy commented: “As time passes the immediacy of violence, suspicion and paranoia subsides. Different contours begin to dominate the political landscape of the North; a place of reconstruction, where city and country become reconfigured according to a logic of economic necessity, and history is once more remade in the image of current imperatives. These negotiations with the past permit its stories to be told in a different way; that which was buried becomes exhumed, previous certainties become open to question. These paintings are an act of surveillance, and as such, they are about the whole nature of looking”.
Duffy’s practice continues to develop and her public art projects are increasingly preoccupied with international themes. She has worked with Goldsmith’s College London researching the role of art in post conflict society and continues to build creative links between Argentina and Northern Ireland. She holds a Leverhulme Fellowship with the Transitional Justice Institute, looking at the role visual art has in post conflict societies.
Pictures have always held my fascination and drawing became an important activity very early in my life. Growing up in 1960s Belfast promised more than enough confusion for anyone. My mother was from Clara Co.Offaly, and such was the intense pull to the centre of Ireland and the matriarchy – my maternal grandmother and my mother’s six sisters - that I was twelve before I realized I came from Belfast! The sense of dislocation never left me. That lack of belonging anywhere, and the confusion and my constant observation looking for clues and incongruities, formed the foundations of my art practice.
Writings About and / or Featuring Rita Duffy artworks:
Paul Muldoon – Cloth
Vikki Bell – politics
Liam Kelly –surveillance
An Iceberg’s Collison With History, Fiona Barber, Essential Gesture Catalogue 2005
In the Time of Shaking, Amnesty International, Ciaran Benson.
Leadheads and Icebergs, Paul Muldoon, and Suzanne O Shea.
House to House, Whitney Chadwick.
Beatland, Whitney Chadwick
A Way, a Lone, A Last, A Loved, a Long the, Leonida, Kovax,
The Hibernia Aidan Dunne
Rita Duffy, An Appraisal, Essay by Denise Ferran, The
Irish Review, Autumn 1997
Banquet, Suzanne O’Shea, The Ormeau Baths Gallery, Belfast and the Hugh Lane Dublin, August 1997. Introduction by Brian Kennedy.
Thinking Long - Contemporary Art from Northern Ireland Liam Kelly 1997
Crossing Boundaries - Belfast/San Francisco, Whitney, Chadwick, and Hilary Robinson 1996
Artists’ Lives - A.N. Productions, John O’Farrell 1996
Art Beyond Conflict - Narrative Jim Smith 1996
Palimpest - Reconstructing Narratives, Hilary Robinson and the ‘The White Hens of Stranmillis’ Tess Hurson 1996
Poetic Land: Political Territory, Christina Braithewaite, Northern Centre for Contemporary Art 1995
Ceasefire, Wolverhampton Art Gallery & Museum, Lisa Rul 1994
Parable Island, Bluecoat Gallery, Liverpool, Brian McAvera 1991
Uncertain Traditions Edmonton Art Gallery, Elizabeth Kidd 1991
On The Balcony of the Nation Arts Council for Northern Ireland, Brian Ferran 1990
Rita Duffy, New Works Arts Council for Northern
Ireland, Fionna Barber 1989
Issues Arts Council for N Ireland,
Denise Ferran, 1989
Directions Out Douglas Hyde Gallery - Brian McAvera, 1987