Exploring the human cost of conflict – ‘silent testimony’ comes to national portrait gallery

Globally renowned Belfast-born artist, Colin Davidson, announces the opening of his powerful display of portraiture, ‘Silent Testimony’, to the National Portrait Gallery, London. Celebrated for his large-scale portrait paintings, Colin’s diverse subjects have included HM The Late Queen Elizabeth II, President Bill Clinton, Brad Pitt, and Ed Sheeran.

Featuring eighteen poignant portraits of people who suffered loss through the Troubles in Northern Ireland, Silent Testimony is set to run from April 22 2024 to 23 February 2025. This emotionally engaging display sheds light on the enduring impact of conflict through the personal stories of those affected.

Silent Testimony has previously captivated audiences at prestigious venues including the Ulster Museum in Belfast, Stormont’s Parliament Buildings, the Irish Arts Centre in New York, and the United Nations HQ in New York. Now, visitors to the National Portrait Gallery will have the opportunity to experience this moving collection for the first time in London. 

Each of Davidson’s large-scale portraits, created between 2014 and 2015, serve as a silent testimony to the individual experiences of loss during the Troubles in Northern Ireland. From the trauma of loss and injury, these portraits offer a deeply personal insight into the human cost of conflict and its ongoing reverberations.

Davidson, reflecting on the display, says: “It is a true privilege to see Silent Testimony installed at the National Portrait Gallery, on one of its most important outings. This exhibition is not only my personal response to the lived legacy of the Troubles but a comment on the fallout of all conflict.

“Silent Testimony is not just about Northern Ireland but about conflict more generally and the people who are left behind in the wake of war. In making this exhibition I wanted to explore the legacy of our past and how it still impacts people today, not by seeking out answers but rather by posing questions. 

He continues: “Bringing this collection to the National Portrait Gallery offers people a chance to engage with the human stories behind the conflict, reflecting on its impact and the resilience of those who have endured it.”

Dr. Alison Smith, Chief Curator, National Portrait Gallery, adds: “The National Portrait Gallery tells the stories of those who have shaped, and continue to shape, the United Kingdom as it is today, so it’s important to have these eighteen portraits – so striking in their scale – now hanging on our walls. Each face in Colin Davidson’s ‘Silent Testimony’ tells a powerful and moving story that reminds us of the impact of The Troubles on individual lives.”

Colin’s gratitude extends to his eighteen sitters and their families for entrusting him with their stories, as well as to WAVE Trauma and National Museums NI for their invaluable support.

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