In October 1994 the Cultural Traditions Group of the Northern Ireland Community Relations Council launched an exhibition entitled 'Symbols'. The exhibition was produced with funding from PSEPII, NICRC, and the Ulster Folk and Transport Museum. It toured Northern Ireland successfully, visiting eighteen venues including community and arts centres, local museums and heritage centres throughout Northern Ireland. The exhibition was invited to the European parliament in Strasbourg and to Frankfurt where it was warmly received.
The exhibition contains eight main sections, comprising graphic, descriptive and contextual information, photographs and artefacts (banners, flags, hats, the harp, walls, religion and sashes), all securely housed in specially constructed wooden cabinets. Each section of the exhibition consists of between two and four cabinets. The exhibition explores the role of the political, religious and contemporary symbols and aims to increase an increased understanding of 'own' and 'other' culture. While concentrating on Ireland specific topics, it includes symbols of other faiths and popular culture.
The symbols exhibition was devised to encourage a greater knowledge and understanding of the symbols which underpin separate and conflicting identities in Northern Ireland, and to raise an informed debate, in many venues, of those symbols which have come to represent conflicting political aspirations, and to be significant markers subject to sectarian attack. The creation and management of the exhibition was designed to provide a model project showing how contentious issues could be addressed.
In many venues, people of all traditions responded to the exhibition by displaying their own locally significant symbols. Lectures and debates were also arranged to highlight the issues raised within the exhibition. A specially commissioned booklet and a video, entitled Green White and Blue were available to support and encourage discussion.
The exhibition was so favourably received by local communities and community relations officers, that new areas now wish to host the exhibition, and a number of venues have requested to host a repeat showing. It is hoped to facilitate these during 1997-1998. Museum curators in the Republic of Ireland have expressed an interest in hosting the exhibition, as have various organisations in Europe and North America which have specific interests in Ireland, and/or divided societies.
The symbols exhibition has undoubtedly raised the level of consciousness
and the quality of debate regarding the myriad issues of social
diversity relevant in Northern Ireland.