'The Maze'

Donovan Wylie's Exhibition
Open Eye Gallery

Reviewed by Colin Serjent

If you did not know of the historical significance of the 'famous' Maze Prison in Belfast (as quoted in the introduction to this exhibition) - the word infamous would be more appropriate given the human rights abuses which went on inside its walls - there would be little point in showing these pictures by Magnum photographer Donovan Wylie.

Disappointingly, there is little of interest here to attract the viewer's attention.

For instance, there are 26 similar sized framed shots showing 26 almost identical sections of the prison, each comprising two barbed wired fences with overgrown land situated in between them. What is the point of showing all of these repetitive images? After seeing the first three or four of this sequences, I paid little attention to the rest of them.

Perhaps Donovan was trying to convey the monotony of life inside prison. If so, the idea does not work.

There is a similar repetetiveness in the series of photographs shown in the adjoining section of the gallery.

There are six pictures of a derelict one-floor concrete building and twelve mind numbing pictures of empty prison cells, containing a single bunk bed with a pillow and folded sheets on top of it, together with undrawn curtains.

Many horrific incidents took place inside the Maze Prison, notably during the early 1980s when ten IRA prisoners, including Bobby Sands, died on hunger strike. During the same period the infamous ‘Blanket Protests’ were taking place as prisoners smeared the cell walls with their own excreta, in protest at the Brtitish Governemnts attempts at treating them as ‘common criminals’. Many many other extreme things and people passed through the walls of that prison.

But this exhibition utterly fails to even indicate that people housed within this grey forbidding fortress were forced to take such extreme action in pursuit of their political ideals.