Some exhibitions grab you immediately, others lure you back over and over. The thoughts and observations you receive as a result can be poignant, unsettling, heart-breaking, compassionate — basically whatever is in your heart.

With a society which is more used to images of women focusing on their youth and beauty, it’s strangely tender and gentle to view an exhibition of women of all ages who have experienced secondary breast cancer. Belfast Exposed currently has a number of great exhibitions running but coming to an end on Saturday 21 May. With Deirdre Robb at the helm, it  is one of the few galleries that not only has a good selection of women artists showing but also turns a sympathetic eye on what it is to be women in all our myriad of phases and stages.

 

Seen to be Heard features 32 portraits of women in Northern Ireland living with secondary breast cancer diagnosis. The women "bravely bare their scars" and the images are tender and evocative. Noelle McAllindon has long been an advocate of the Arts and the power it has to help us look at issues in different ways. She is shining a light on the discrepancy and inequality in current cancer policy for this secondary cancer compared to what is available elsewhere in Wales and Scotland.

“We never should underestimate the power of women lifting women and the power of the Arts," says Noelle McAllindon.

Professor Mark Lawler, who is pivotal in supporting the All-Island Cancer Research Institute says: "This beautiful but thought-provoking and challenging exhibition captures the reality of living with cancer and we need to make sure that their message resonates so that there are clear actions on addressing the challenges of secondary breast cancer. I sincerely hope that this will be reflected in the new Northern Ireland Cancer Strategy and its implementation, so that we deliver the optimum standard of care for all women with secondary breast cancer."

As someone who has experienced cancer myself and been evolved in peer reviews of cancer services, I can understand the complexity and challenges involved within the current system and the processes and procedures required to implement such a policy. Hopefully this exhibition will go some way to educate the public and those who have the power to implement it. 

Also at Belfast Exposed 'We, Us, Them' is a collaborative exhibition between Belfast Exposed and the Centre for Contemporary Photography, Melbourne which acts as a platform through which seven female artists explore personal reflections on communal history, identity and place. A simultaneous exhibition has been happening in Melbourne at the same time.

TRAVELLER TALE: Rosie Repeats Pattern
2Gallery

TRAVELLER TALE: Rosie Repeats Pattern

Taking the experience of aboriginal women and Irish Traveller women the hybrid photographic and audio installation was collaboratively developed with Irish Traveller women. The powerful images explore how women respond to prejudice by presenting a celebratory and observational response of their cultural values and ways of living.

Think joyful wallpaper and honouring of these women in all their glory.

'The Truth is in the Soil' by Ioanna Sakellaraki is in the Belfast Exposed upstairs gallery. Her work body  is compelling and intense as she explores grief and mourning rituals in today's Greek communities. Ioanna is one of Belfast Exposed's Futures Award winners where the gallery support artists using photography to create new work and significantly develop their practice. The images give an intimate glimpse into the Greek community.  

All these exhibitions have just come to an end at the Belfast Exposed Donegall Street gallery.

Meanwhile, Belfast Photo Festival has launched its programme coming up in June. I’m looking forward to the biodegradable hands of friendship lawn fresco of two intertwined hands to be displayed at Stormont Estate to convey the message of solidarity, dialogue and friendship beyond geographical and societal constraints.

We shall see if it has the desired effect!