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Public artwork celebrating journey towards peace in Suffolk & Lenadoon unveiled

Tuesday 30th June 2015 at 12pm

Unveiling the Belfast Handshake pictured left to right - Sean Keenan, Building Peace Through the Arts Programme Manager, Arts Council of Northern Ireland, Ralf Sander, artist, and Deputy Lord Mayor, Alderman Guy Spence
Image: Unveiling the Belfast Handshake pictured left to right - Sean Keenan, Building Peace Through the Arts Programme Manager, Arts Council of Northern Ireland, Ralf Sander, artist, and Deputy Lord Mayor, Alderman Guy Spence

The sculpture is the work of internationally acclaimed artist and sculptor, Ralf Sander and is the realisation of extensive community engagement through artist-led workshops. 

The Belfast Handshake has been designed as part of the interface groups Peace work around community cohesion, regeneration through the arts, positive relations at the local level, peace and reconciliation, and connecting communities.

Unveiling the sculpture along with members of SLIG, the community and  project participants were Deputy Lord Mayor Guy Spence, Sean Keenan from the Arts Council of Northern Ireland, and artist Ralf Sander

Deputy Lord Mayor, Alderman Guy Spence, said:

“Community engagement – and in particular, engagement between communities – is vitally important.  This art piece is an significant symbol of peace and stretches out the hands of friendship to promote reconciliation.  This fits perfectly with the great work being carried out by local people here, and I offer my congratulations to all involved”.

The project was supported by the ‘Building Peace through the Arts – Re-Imaging Communities’ programme which is funded by the Arts Council of Northern Ireland, the European Union’s Programme for Peace and Reconciliation (PEACE III) managed by the Special EU Programmes Body and the International Fund for Ireland.

The project was led by Suffolk Lenadoon Interface Group (SLIG), an award winning community development organisation based on the Suffolk Lenadoon interface in outer West Belfast with regeneration and peace building being its priority. For this particular project SLIG wanted to create a public artwork of excellence, which captured the future ambitions of the community rather than focusing on the past.

After several months of detailed consultation with a range of groups it was determined that The Belfast Handshake should be a symbolic legacy of the journey undertaken by the residents, rising from their troubled past to a more peaceful present, recognising the trauma experienced by so many of its residents and how together they must remain vigilant to ensure they maintain the balancing act of peace.

Suzanne Lavery ,Peace Walls Development Officer at SLIG (Suffolk and Lenadoon Interface Group) said:

‘Each member of our community has made a significant contribution to help bring this artwork to life.  Sharing their stories, inter-generational groups have engaged with the artist, Ralf Sander and used art and creativity to help regenerate our area and shape a shared future of positive relations within the local community.”
The location of The Belfast Handshake at the entrance of the Stewartstown Road was chosen due to its accessibility to both communities and as it is the only site in the locality of the Interface that is perceived by both communities as shared space.

Roisin McDonough, Chief Executive of The Arts Council of Northern Ireland said:

‘The Building Peace Through the Arts programme has ensured arts and creativity are used to bring together communities. The once troubled interface communities of Suffolk and Lenadoon have been unrelenting in their journey to build a strong peaceful area. As we unveil the artwork The Belfast Handshake, it is fitting that we celebrate the contribution all have made to peace building in this community and that, through this project we ensure their positive legacy is on-going. ‘

Also attending the launch, artist Ralf Sander, said:

‘The Belfast Handshake is a homage to the future aspirations for continued peace within this community. The courage and efforts of so many in building trust and nurturing engagement has helped secure a positive future for younger generations. The immense contribution this peace building has made will be a lasting legacy for generations.’

This sculpture celebrates the dynamic and diverse culture and identity of many generations of Suffolk and Lenadoon and how they have come together for the greater good. Their journey to peace has its roots in the past but has paved the way to allow all to follow their dreams into a continued peaceful future.