Ulster Museum has become home to Northern Ireland’s first Turner Prize-winning artwork - The Druthaib’s Ball - by Belfast-based artists Array Collective. The immersive installation is an imagined síbín - or illicit pub - which was created in 2021, a time when the centenaries of partition and the creation of Northern Ireland intersected with multiple ongoing campaigns including marriage equality, reproductive rights, and an Irish Language Act for Northern Ireland. It gives an insight to some of the political and social causes that have come to prominence in ‘post-conflict’ Northern Ireland.
The Druthaib’s Ball is an immersive installation that invites audiences to share alternative history in a síbín. This long-established tradition of an unlicensed bar can be a space of contradiction, dark humour and craic. It includes over 250 objects, artworks and furnishings that promote discussions around cultural identity and rights. Each has been selected to create a unique experience that playfully merges protest, performance and ancient mythology.
The Ulster Museum acquired the artwork with support from the Art Fund and the Department for Communities. Commenting on its arrival to Ulster Museum, Kathryn Thomson, Chief Executive of National Museums NI, said:
“The Druthaib’s Ball highlights the evolving nature of both art and politics in Northern Ireland. The Ulster Museum is an engaging space where contemporary issues can be discussed and examined. We aim to support exploration and dialogue regarding our past, present and future.”
Array Collective invites us into the síbín to experience The Druthaib’s Ball in this immersive exhibition. The exterior of the síbín is a semi-circular structure built to resemble many of the cairns, dolmens and stone walls that are scattered throughout Ireland. A large canopy, styled from banners used in past protests, provides a floating roof. Inside you will find meaningful ephemera throughout, including an old TV which shows archive material from the Digital Film Archive courtesy of Northern Ireland Screen. The main films feature various performances, stories and costumes from artists from Belfast and beyond that will let Ulster Museum visitors connect with Array Collective, and their use of art to entertain, coalesce and campaign.
Array Collective commented:
“Tá áthas orainn a bheith sa bhaile! It’s been a memorable journey, but we are delighted that ‘The Druthaib’s Ball’ is finally home! The artwork was conceived of and created in Belfast, it involved the work and support of numerous locally based artists and is inspired by causes that affect people throughout the north. Coming home feels significant. We are excited to welcome everyone to spend time in the síbín at the Ulster Museum. Níl aon tintéan mar do thintéan féin.”
Anna Liesching, Curator of Art at National Museums NI, and curator of The Druthaib’s Ballexhibition said:
“It was an incredible moment for the art community in Northern Ireland when Array Collective were awarded the 2021 Turner Prize. The win drew attention to the historic connection between art and social activism in Belfast. Now, we mark this moment by bringing the prize-winning installation into the Ulster Museum Collection, joining our existing works of art that focus on socially engaged practice.”
Jenny Waldman, Director of Art Fund, said:
“Array Collective’s The Druthaib’s Ball made history as the first Turner Prize-winning work from Northern Ireland. I’m truly delighted that Art Fund has been able to help this important installation, made by and for the people of Northern Ireland, enter the permanent collection at Ulster Museum for the public to enjoy for many years to come.”