Sunshine in Ulster is a photographic exhibition portraying people of Caribbean heritage living, working and participating in everyday life in Northern Ireland, as residents and citizens. It runs throughout the month of July 2015 at the Linen Hall Library. The exhibition features the work of local photographers Sarah Hunter and Mark Hinds. Sarah is a freelance photographer who has worked for various NGOs including Amnesty International, UNICEF and War Child in the Middle East and Africa. She has also designed and facilitated community and youth photography workshops in Northern Ireland. Mark is a freelance photographer and also does substantial work with video. He seeks to constantly learn and improve his craft through experimentation with various subjects and photographic techniques. Most of his work involves fashion models, but he continues to diversify and develop his portfolio and experience.
The collection was commissioned by the Association of Caribbean Nationals (ACAN) and the African & Caribbean Support Organisation Northern Ireland (ACSONI) through funding by the Arts Council of Northern Ireland. The photographs were first exhibited during Summer 2014 at the City Hall, during the opening event of Caribbean Week, themed “One Love”, alongside other photographs from Sarah’s collection of images that capture stories and the aftermath of conflict. These images were taken while she worked in places such as Lebanon and Gaza, where news of war and destruction frequently appears in the media. However, the collection includes images of contemporary Belfast, where cross-community conflicts continue to churn. Racial tension has become an element of conflict in Belfast with the rise of immigration, creating a new challenge for those working in the area of community relations. It is against this backdrop that the significance of Caribbean people coming to Northern Ireland is highlighted. Advances in the socio-economic climate in Northern Ireland has led to education, jobs and a general quality of life that are attractive for people from various lands to consider here as a place to settle, work and raise families.
There are 17 photographs capturing individuals of Caribbean heritage doing their everyday jobs or extracurricular activities. These include arts, business, engineering, hospitality, music, science and sport. Although the Caribbean is synonymous with sunshine, beaches and holiday experience, the exhibition’s theme “Sunshine in Ulster” does not dwell on the weather. It is a celebration of culture, coming together and collaboration. The Caribbean is made up of over 50 independent and dependent states with different sizes, geographies and languages, with currently around 10 different nations represented in Northern Ireland, Jamaicans being the largest population. Besides the climate, sandy beaches and sunshine, these nations share the past of colonisation and slavery, which is evident in the various shades of skin and tones of accents that emerge from the islands. The similarity of accents to those heard in some regions of Ireland and Scotland also remind of historical links that emphasise our oneness as people, without denying the significance of celebrating diversity and identity.
The exhibition was officially launched on the 3rd of July 2015 and featured music, singing, poetry and storytelling from the Caribbean, showcasing work from classical singer Clover Watts, dub poet and storyteller Raquel McKee (Rainbow Storytelling) and singer-songwriter Phil Robinson. A highlight of the evening was a very informative collection of live interviews with Caribbean Nationals, facilitated by Kim Lenaghan, a local radio and TV broadcaster, well-known for her work with the BBC. Guests were Alicia Patterson, an author and physiotherapist of St. Lucian heritage; Joyce Lewis, also originally from St. Lucia and an author, as well as a certified accountant; Sean Virtue, a Jamaican living and working in Northern Ireland in the hospitality and film industries; Karen Millar from Belfast, who was married to a Jamaican, with whom she has a daughter, adding a different perspective on the topic of integration and Caribbean-Irish relations; and finally, Dwayne-Andrew Kerr, the reigning Mr. Northern Ireland, a model, sportsman and recent graduate of media studies, born in Jamaica. It is hoped that the exhibition will continue to reduce the prevalence of racial stereotypes believed to be at the root of interracial conflict. Moreover, it is hoped that it inspires youth from across the community to celebrate diversity and move forward in confidence to collaborate across community lines that previously seemed uncrossable.