PRINT May 1991


PLACE IS IMPORTANT in the work of Willie Doherty, place and a political predicament—the so-called “Irish Problem”—that disallows a simple formal reading of his conceptually oriented image/text pieces. Born in Derry, Northern Ireland, in 1959, Doherty chooses to live and work there, and this choice inflects his pieces, even when they appear in another context.

Naming is a way of knowing the world, of gaining mastery of it. Doherty knows this to be a complex conceptual maneuver, especially when an exclusive right to name is claimed by the state—in this case the British government, which for two years has enforced a broadcast-media ban on Sinn Fein (the Irish nationalist party) and other organizations, both Republican and Loyalist. Consider the case of Birmingham Six, six men from Northern Ireland. Through the state's ability to define them, wrongly, as terrorists, they spent 16 years in prison for a crime they did not commit. To a senior judge, Lord Denning, faced with a suit they filed for damages, it would have been so disturbing to this extent that he simply dismissed the case, remarking, “Every sensible person in the land would say 'it cannot be right these [appeal] actions should go any further.'”

Doherty is not sensible. He knows that perceptions can vary, that meaning is fluid, that the boundaries between image and text are permeable. The image in the project on the following two pages is a photograph of Donna Maguire, an alleged IRA (Irish Republican Army) member, who was acquitted on a murder charge on 2 April 1991. Sam Difference charts the slippery and ambivalent terrain that naming her represents.

Deborah Drier