Created by the British artist Rita Donagh, shadow of six counties (c) 1980 consists of a square road map of Northern Ireland featuring a large central area demarcated in pencil and partially shaded in blue and grey, with the areas surrounding it unevenly coated in white paint that obscures some of the printed locations. The ‘six counties’ referred to in the title collectively form Northern Ireland (Antrim, Armagh, Derry, Down, Fermanagh and Tyrone). The demarcated area replicates the combined shape (or ‘shadow’, as the title implies) of the six counties – the shape of Northern Ireland as a whole – but it is drawn onto the map on a magnified section of an area in the east of Northern Ireland, around Belfast. As such, some areas that in reality lie within the six counties, such as Armagh, appear in this work to be outside the borders that Donagh has created. There are creases visible in the work, some further emphasised by the paint, which are suggestive of folds in the map.
shadow of six counties (c) is part of a series of four works created by Donagh between 1979 and 1981 (reproduced in Watkins 2005, pp.60–3) that explore the cartography of Northern Ireland and its political implications. In the rectangular Shadow of the Six Counties (a) 1979 Donagh added a tight grid and sellotape to an outline of Northern Ireland drawn on card. Shadow of the Six Counties 1980 is a work on canvas in oil paint with collage elements characterised by heavy brown and blue colouring. It features the names of the six counties highlighted within a drawn map that is divided by various intersecting lines and contains depictions of human hands reaching downwards. Shadow of the Six Counties 1981 (Imperial War Museum, London) – a square work featuring pencil, ink, crayon, watercolour and gouache paint – depicts a map of Northern Ireland containing shadings and demarcations representing the boundaries of different political and administrative territories, on top of which appears an outline of the ‘H’ block of the Maze prison, an institution in Northern Ireland in which political prisoners were held from 1971 to 2000 and that has appeared in many of Donagh’s works.
The ‘shadow’ referred to in the title of the works in this series alludes to the impact of the violent struggles over the geopolitical status of Northern Ireland that began in the late 1960s and are widely considered to have concluded in the late 1990s, a conflict commonly known as the Troubles. In 2005 the curator Jonathan Watkins described how the series addresses the shifting territorial form of the country: ‘Donagh pushes and pulls at it, she draws on actual maps superimposing differences of scale, applies various layers of paint and yet the shadow still comes through with all its recognisable contours, outlines of natural features and man-made frontiers’ (Watkins 2005, p.17).
In 1982 Donagh explained how her engagement with the cartography of Northern Ireland – or Ulster, as the country is sometimes called – evolved from her interest in the Troubles:
Drawn, as I had been by my involvement in the depiction of an innocent victim of a bomb blast, in confrontation with the fact of the British presence in Ulster, the shape of the six counties began to haunt my imagination. Drawn and redrawn it came to fix itself on my mind – an image of topographic beauty altogether at odds with the fate the province had been assigned in the United Kingdom as the arena of violence and death.
(Quoted in Watkins 2005, p.17.)
In her subsequent work Donagh continued to engage with the Troubles – in paintings and drawings such as Counterpane 1987–8 (Tate T05838) and Bandsman 1988 (Tate T11906) – while she has also explored different forms of cartography, notably in a later series of works relating to the area in which she grew up that includes Black Country 2003 and Ordinance Survey, Birmingham 2004.
shadow of six counties (c) was first displayed along with the rest of the series at the Nigel Greenwood Gallery, London, in July 1982, where the four works were collectively titled Shadow of the six counties 1981. Tate acquired this work from Donagh’s husband, the artist Richard Hamilton, whom she married in 1991.
Sarat Maharaj, Rita Donagh: 197419841994: Paintings and Drawings, exhibition catalogue, Cornerhouse, Manchester 1994, reproduced p.19.
Jonathan Watkins (ed.), Rita Donagh, exhibition catalogue, Ikon Gallery, Birmingham 2005, pp.17–18, reproduced p.60.
Rita Donagh and Richard Hamilton: Civil Rights etc., exhibition catalogue, Dublin City Gallery The Hugh Lane, Dublin 2011, reproduced p.75.
Supported by Christie’s.