Rita Duffy: Northern Ireland lacks 'female voice in politics'

By Stephen Walker
BBC News NI Political Correspondent

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image captionBelfast artist Rita Duffy said Northern Ireland lacks female representation in politics

A leading artist has said life in Northern Ireland will only be transformed once there are "liberally-minded" female politicians who have the courage to do "what they know is best".

Belfast-born artist Rita Duffy said that while there are leading female politicians in Northern Ireland, women still have a "minimal voice".

Regarded as one of the island's leading artists, her work often examines Irish identity, history and politics.

She insisted there needs to be change.

''As a community of people, we in Ulster are in serious need of oxygen and engagement with the outside world and so often lack that female perspective,'' she told BBC News NI.

"Maybe we would have politics here worth voting for if we had more women candidates who were liberally minded and who had the courage to do what they know best.''

'Female perspective'

The award-winning artist made her remarks as she prepares to travel from Northern Ireland to South America, where she will witness other societies affected by conflict.

She will visit Argentina, Brazil and Chile and meet fellow artists, curators and human rights activists.

Her two-month trip includes time at a former detention centre in the Atacama desert in Chile while in Argentina she plans to meet members of the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo.

The group is made up of women who campaign for the return of the bodies of their children who were killed during the 1970s and 80s.

image copyrightRita Duffy
image captionMany of Ms Duffy's pieces touch on the peace process and Troubles in Northern Ireland

Much of Rita Duffy's work has been influenced by the Troubles and the peace process.

As she prepares for her trip, she said there are clear similarities between South America and Northern Ireland.

She explained: "There are obvious social and political parallels between here and there; dirty war, armed groups, government mishandling of events, power and violence and the silencing of women.

"The places I am choosing to visit have particular resonances with my experience in Belfast."

Ms Duffy said she was particularly looking forward to visiting the Atacama desert.

"The dry desert under foot in this area is searched regularly by families of the Disappeared searching desperately for tiny bone fragments of loved ones.

"Here, a former detention centre remains and a former prisoner returns each year to take care of the mural he painted there. I will have the chance to accompany him on this journey."

image copyrightRita Duffy
image captionMs Duffy's work focus on people who are missing because of conflict

During her trip, Ms Duffy will travel to Sao Paulo in Brazil to work at a university for two weeks, giving lectures and masterclasses.

She plans to set up a small studio and travel whilst keeping a working journal before returning home in January 2019.

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