The Troubles engulfed Northern Ireland in conflict for nearly 30 years. It was – and remains – a contentious period, with roots going back centuries.
A fragile peace called the Good Friday Agreement was signed in 1998, yet many aspects of the conflict remain unresolved to this day.
Our new exhibition, Northern Ireland: Living with the Troubles, explores the conflict through the multiple perspectives of those who experienced it.
Find out more about Northern Ireland and the Troubles in our four-part YouTube video series below.
The Troubles video series
This four-part series examines the entire history of the Troubles, from the causes of the conflict to the long and difficult peace negotiations:
- Episode one: Origins
- Episode two: Escalation
- Episode three: Division
- Episode four: Peace
We have also captured a behind the scenes video exploring how we set up the Troubles exhibition at IWM London, which you can watch below.
Designing the Troubles exhibition at IWM London
Craig Murray: "Planning for this exhibition probably started in 2018, so around five years on and off. Because so much of the narrative of the Troubles is contested and people have the right to their own lived experience and how they saw things, I was obviously very aware of the fact that we needed to hear voices coming from many different directions to really convey to the people who are going to come and visit this exhibition that what you're going to see here is highly contested. So you need to hear these different voices whether you agree with them or not. In order to to do this, I had to travel in Northern Ireland quite a lot over the last few years, discussing with people what I wanted to do, what people there thought about the idea of IWM doing an actual exhibition of the Troubles. The reception I had generally across the board was one that was very positive and they were glad we were actually doing it.
One of the crucial aspects of this whole project wasn't just the exhibition itself, it was actually diversifying and increasing the collection that we hold on the Troubles. The objects have fed into the exhibition and will continue to feed into exhibitions and research in the years to come.
During the planning and research for this exhibition over 250 new objects were collected, some of which we've selected as part of the exhibition. This particular object here is the life license letter of a loyalist paramilitary prisoner. It's obviously a very personal object, not many of these still exist because many prisoners once released just threw them away but it states that he is now ready for release on completion of a nine-month rehabilitation course. Prisoner release was a highly contentious thing particularly around the Good Friday Agreement where people were often undecided on whether they wanted to vote for it based on the release of prisoners due to so much death and violence and injury to people being caused by these people.
Jack Gelsthorpe: "So the Troubles spans nearly a 30-year period of history and the exhibition space is approximately 199 meters squared. That may sound large but it really isn't. Therefore, we do not have enough space to do a chronological deep dive into every single event for this specific conflict. Therefore we've chosen to take a thematic approach in this exhibition space; we want to use our objects, our stories, our photography collection to really look at themes and utilise our specific collection items to speak to those themes, to challenge our visitors' understanding around this conflict.
When developing this exhibition we were acutely aware of the location of this exhibition at the heart of the Imperial War Museum in London. We also commissioned some audience research into our visitors' attitudes and understanding around this topic. Through this we identified a slight lack of knowledge and a slight awkwardness around talking about this conflict and engaging with the multiple perspectives that this conflict has. Therefore what this exhibition is trying to do is meet that awkwardness and sense of nervousness around this and really make people feel confident in trying to find out more about this nuanced and challenging topic. This is not a conflict that was fought on some far-flung battlefield, this is a conflict that was fought in roads, in streets, in towns, cities and villages within Northern Ireland. It was an incredibly close conflict and the exhibition design is trying to sort of support that content in, in really bringing out the closeness of it."
Anna Montgomery: "So from very early stages in the design process, we knew that we had two very strong threads; these were the combination of the voices of the contributors, the people that Craig has interviewed recently but also an extensive and powerful collection of photography. These two elements combined really allowed us to create a really strong sense of place as part of the visitors experience. So focusing on the voices, we have these playing out through these Voice Points, the idea being that where these Voice Points are positioned throughout the space, visitors will be able to approach them and listen to the voices as if they're in conversation almost. What this also offers within the experience is this feeling that the voices are occupying the space and that's very much something that's influenced the design on this project. We also have an extremely strong collection of photography and what we were very keen to do was to use certain photography at such a scale that it really takes people to the streets or to a moment in time, so we're using them in that kind of one-to-one scale."
Craig Murray: "The core aim of this exhibition I think was really to bring it home to the visitor that so much of what went on during the Troubles is contested, and people don't agree. What you're going to find in here is not a clean single narrative that will make it easy for you and that in itself is liberating because once you get into your way of thinking that it's very complicated, very difficult and nobody really agrees in a number of things that will give you the tools if you will to go off and do your own research and work out what you think happened for yourself."
This free exhibition at IWM London will invite visitors to further their understanding of the Troubles through the multiple perspectives of individuals affected by the conflict.
In this video, we speak to the Lead Curator, the Exhibitions Manager and the Senior Designer about how the teams brought this highly anticipated exhibition together.
Coming in 2024...
Northern Ireland: Living with the Troubles will open at IWM North from 22 March to 29 September 2024.
Explore the Troubles through four key sections, hearing from people with a range of differing perspectives and encountering objects that illuminate their experiences.