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'Woman in a Bomb Blast'

This four-minute audio clip describes the sculpture Woman in a Bomb Blast by F. E. McWilliam (1909–1992).

Woman in a Bomb Blast

Woman in a Bomb Blast 1974

F. E. McWilliam (1909–1992)

F. E. McWilliam Gallery and Studio

Full audio description text

Woman in a Bomb Blast is a bronze sculpture by Northern Irish sculptor Frederick Edward McWilliam, better known as F. E. McWilliam, who lived from 1909 to 1992. It is a realistic depiction of a young female figure being blown backwards through the air. The sculpture is dark brown in colour and is over a metre long, about 60 cm high and 60 cm wide. It is displayed in the glazed entrance hall to the F. E. McWilliam Gallery, is mounted on a long, low, white wooden plinth, and can be touched.

The figure has landed on her bottom, and it's the only part of her body touching the ground. Her limbs are wildly outstretched, the left arm propelled behind her. Her outer layer of clothing, perhaps an apron, has been blown over her face, completely obscuring her head, creating a sense of anonymity. Her short-sleeved dress has crumpled up to mid-thigh – the deep fabric folds within it appear dynamic despite being cast in bronze. There is a stark contrast between the smooth surface of the woman's elegant limbs and the deeply textured grooves of her clothing.

When first encountered, the figure appears to be graceful and reminiscent of a dancer. The title Woman in a Bomb Blast challenges this initial impression. The sculpture is one of a series known as the 'Women of Belfast', which McWilliam started in 1972 in response to the Abercorn Tea Room Bombing in Belfast on 4th March 1972, when a bomb left in a popular café killed two young women and injured 130 other civilians. This tragic event happened during the height of The Troubles, the decades of armed conflict which engulfed Northern Ireland from the late 1960s to 1998.

McWilliam was born in Banbridge, County Down and although he made his career in London he maintained strong links with Northern Ireland. His work was not typically political but the horrors of The Troubles, and particularly the media images which he saw in London, provoked him to create the 'Women of Belfast' series as a comment on the atrocities of conflict, and that women are often the victims of war.

Woman in a Bomb Blast is the largest and best known of the Women of Belfast series. This is one of three editions: the others are held by Ulster Museum in Belfast and Crawford Art Gallery in Cork. During the 1970s and 1980s, this sculpture was one of the few artworks on public display in Northern Ireland which commented directly on The Troubles. Many local artists and writers have identified this iconic work as an important early influence.

The contrast between the beauty of the female figure and the horror of the subject matter creates a tension in this work which makes it enduringly relevant and compelling.

Art UK and VocalEyes

This audio description was created by VocalEyes for Art UK Sculpture, a national project to document and increase access to the UK's publicly owned sculpture. This description is one of 25 representing sculpture collections across the UK.

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