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Belfast Exposed

In 1983, following the intense social unrest and trauma of the 1980-1981 Hunger Strikes, teacher, trade unionist and community activist Danny Burke brought together a collective of local photographers to initiate an exhibition of photography reflecting Belfast from the inside. The exhibition was called Belfast Exposed and initially comprised over 200 photographs and slides, documenting daily life in the city from a predominately working-class perspective.

Opening in October 1983 at Conway Mill - on the nationalist side of Belfast’s main ‘Peace Wall’ - the exhibition attracted interest from all over the city. It later moved to the Bank of Ireland Gallery in Dublin where Seamus Heaney remarked on the "powerful, democratic feel running through these photographs", which documented a common experience of unemployment, poor housing and economic deprivation, at once intensified by sectarian conflict and alleviated by the gritty humour of working-class Belfast.

Following the exhibition’s success, forging solidarities across Belfast's sectarian divide, Belfast Exposed – now a burgeoning visual arts organisation - represented the work of photographers from a range of backgrounds. All the while, recruiting a cross community steering committee and bringing exhibitions to venues in all areas of the city.

Over the following years, new photographic practices began to emerge in Northern Ireland, providing critical tools for documenting and reimagining a rapidly changing region. However, in many ways, the approach and aims of the original 1983 exhibitions have set the tone for our ethos from then until now. While community experience of conflict remains an important focus of our work, the ongoing challenge is to maintain its relevance for a new generation of audiences and photographers.

Since moving to the Cathedral Quarter in 2003, Belfast Exposed has engaged with tens of thousands of people every year: photographers, artists, activists, local communities, tourists, students, young people, and the general public. Each group has contributed to a substantial portfolio of exhibitions, publications and projects, often informed by questions that resonate with local experience: representation, identity, history, memory, commemoration and attachment to place.



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