Anyone reading this likely to go to North Korea any time soon? And if you do would you get out alive?

A safer option would be to visit the new exhibition 'Unperson: North Korean Defectors' in An Chultúrlann as a part of the Belfast Photo Festival (which runs from 3-30 June) and ponder the work of Tim Franco.

A French-Polish photographer, Franco documents the incredible urbanisation of China and its social impacts but the body of work that was selected for the Belfast Photo Festival is based on North Korean defectors.

The term Unperson is taken from George Orwell's 1984 and describes someone who simply disappears. As part of his process, Franco has travelled to the points on the North-South Korean border where different defectors have crossed in order to "capture the diversity of landscape that is the background to the North Korean defector".

Belfast Photo Festival has become more ambitious over the years. It seems like it was only yesterday that I attended the first launch in 2011 in the Black Box with Lord Mayor Niall Ó Donnghaile. With the young Michael Weir as festival director at his side, the event showed a generation shift in the city.

SPOTLIGHT: David Vintner and Gen Fletcher show in University of Atypical

SPOTLIGHT: David Vintner and Gen Fletcher show in University of Atypical

While the festival has sometimes overreached, it has always been ambitious and showed the naysayers how visual arts can pull off a citywide festival with real power. New images are important. They enliven debate and shift people around the city. They  can make you gasp.

And while there is no local talent selected for the festival, there is a great opportunity for Belfast photographers to have their images seen as part of the portfolio review from over 28 different experts in the field. The organisers are looking for new images but be warned there is a fee and the bar to admission will be high.

With some the Festival exhibitions outdoors, it can be a stress-free way to get into the swing of art-viewing again. There are even a couple of walking tours with the curators at weekends. 

Elsewhere many Galleries have reopened or will open their doors this week. While it's a bit tougher to open theatre with two weeks notice, many exhibitions spaces have been quietly waiting for art lovers to darken their doors.

The Ulster Museum and the Mac have booking systems but as long as you do not turn up on busy weekends, they can usually take you there and then if you give them your contact details. But remember, usually only the commercial galleries are open on a Monday as globally Monday is usually an art museum closure day (except for The Mac and Ulster Museum during school holidays).

This will forever be painfully burnt into my memory: On arriving in Paris on a Monday with three francs in my pocket as a 19-year-old Interailling art student at the end of a month-long journey, I thought I could get into a few galleries only to find they were all closed — and cost to get in anyway. 


There is a new studio gallery spot which has been looking forward to opening at 35 Donegall Street. Arcade Studio/Gallery has nine artists and their first exhibition is a group show.

Artist Sophia Campbell showed me around and explained how they have built the gallery space in what was one the corner of a dance studio, perhaps some of you might have attended classes there? I always love to see new galleries pop up but wish more people supported them. 

If you are in the Cathedral Quarter vicinity, PsSquared gallery at 11 Rosemary Street opens from Thursday 27 May, 1-5pm, with an exhibition of drawings by Australian artist Gary Shaw who has made Belfast his home. It will then return to its usual 1-5pm Tuesday to Saturday opening hours. 

In the East of the City, QSS Gallery at 11-13 Bloomfield Avenue has the MFA Year 1 students work installed. Belfast School of Art MFA graduates have a virtual viewing platform set up: you can have speed tours, big tours, wee tours and everything in between. ArtisAnn, Bloomfield Avenue has Mathew Smyth until 29 May.

Platform Arts are in their new space in Connswater shopping centre showing Ellen Dufy and Kate Murphy until 28 May. Framewerk on the Newtownards Road also has a group exhibition on.


Outside of the city, the wonderful FE McWilliam Gallery is giving me the only excuse I ever have to go to Banbridge by reopening with their Sculptures at Work photographs by Anne-Katrin Purkiss. This may be of interest to anyone who has ever wondered how some artists work in 3D.

I hope you get back out into the galleries and into the flow of art that permeates the city and beyond to experience culture in a socially distanced, taking-all-precautions way. Maybe I will see you there for an elbow bump?