Review: Hillsborough Tributes at Museum of Liverpool

Hillsborough Quilt by Linda Whitfield (Detail)
Hillsborough Quilt by Linda Whitfield (Detail)

Hillsborough Tributes 2016
Museum of Liverpool. On display until further notice

Words by Patrick Kirk-Smith

It’s quite rare to be genuinely humbled during a day at work, but today I found myself talking to a woman whose creativity has been focussed on what I can only describe as an act of love and dedication. There have been hundreds of artistic responses to Hillsborough, and the sheer volume of those tributes stands testament to how far Liverpool’s compassion reaches, on a subject that won’t ever stop hurting. I’m talking very specifically about one of the new additions to the Museum of Liverpool’s second floor; a quilt gifted to the Hillsborough Family Support Group, and donated to the museum.

The quilt, stitched by Linda Whitfield, isn’t the only new addition to the exhibition, which is now celebrating its fifth year, but I’m pretty sure it’s the one likely to become known as a pilgrimage, for art and football lovers alike. It’s a captivating tapestry of local history, made with football shirts donated by local people, and warm-hearted Liverpool FC fans. What blew me away was the honesty of it. Linda only started quilting two years ago, and decided to take this project on when her husband had a light-bulb moment while following the inquest hearings.

One of the most common questions she is asked is “Did you lose anybody? Did you know anybody?”, and her response is one I believe sums up Liverpool’s relationship with the 96: “No, we’re just fans.”

It’s an emotional response that often gets lost in other cities, who see it as a tragedy, but don’t have the same attachment. You don’t have to have lost anybody, or have known someone who has. The coverage, even to this day, stirs up emotions locally that go a long way towards proving what a strong community Liverpool has.

Accompanying the quilt as a new addition to the gallery is the multi-award winning painter Christian Hook, fresh from winning the prestigious Sky Arts Portrait Artist of the Year. His portrait of actress Sue Johnston was unveiled as tribute to her ongoing support for the families effected by Hillsborough in 1989. This new addition to the gallery is perhaps a little under celebrated in its surroundings, but perfectly accompanied by Jimmy McGovern’s 1996 film, reminding us consistently through this exhibition that provides a constant reminder that you really won’t ever walk alone in a city that won’t ever stop showing its feelings for the 96.

Perhaps the most affecting thing in these new additions is how the life-long Liverpool fan, Linda Whitfield, chose to display the names on her work. Children’s names adorn children’s shirts, with noticeably smaller badges. Fathers and sons; friends; families; anybody who entered the crowd in a group and never left are displayed together in this work for the rest of time.

From a lifelong fan, to the reactions of a newcomer to Liverpool, these new additions provide a reassuring nod to anybody looking for a little support, or wishing to pay their respects, and will remain in the gallery for the foreseeable future. The museum will also be displaying a commemorative 96 across its face between the 5th and the 18th of April 2016, marking the 27th anniversary of the tragedy on April 15th of 1989.