Manchester International Festival: True Faith

Curated by Matthew Higgs and John Savage, this exhibition explores the continued legacy and influence of both Joy Division and New Order, through the abundance of visual art inspired by their music.

The original band was formed in Salford by Peter Hook and Bernard Sumner in 1976, along with Ian Curtis and Stephen Morris. Becoming pioneers of the post-punk movement, Joy Division rose to critical acclaim after releasing their debut album Unknown Pleasures in 1978.  Ian, who suffered from epilepsy and depression, committed suicide in 1980. This resulted in the band’s dissolution and subsequent reformation as New Order, with the addition of Gillian Gilbert. The band’s evolution also marked a change in their musical style- elements of instrumentation and dance rhythms soon dominated their work, giving a distinctive sound and aesthetic.

Far from performing as a cliché tribute to Manchester’s musical history, True Faith offers a surprisingly complex dynamic that places emphasis upon music’s ability to be visualised through varying forms of representation. Contemporary artists such as Julian Schnabel, Jeremy Deller and Glenn Brown bring a unique perspective, that overall delivers an experience that proves light and dark in equal measure. The echoing, gloomy spaces occupied by Joy Division are reflected through the gallery- constructed lighting, fashioned into delicate trees, are the only interruption in an otherwise endless stream of shadow. Darkness soon gives way to New Order’s colourful, upbeat synths; the latter half of the gallery is inevitably more optimistic, and lifts you out of obscurity.

You’ll find a wealth of poignant performance films, music videos, and posters as you explore the exhibition, all arranged chronologically. There’s also a collection of exclusive personal materials from the band, including hand-written lyrics scribed by Ian Curtis himself.

True Faith is a remarkably sincere, thought-provoking ensemble, that seamlessly combines past and present to the viewer. It’s not just an exhibition about Joy Division and New Order; it’s an analysis of the human psyche, of soul, of spirit, and pain. Whether you’re a massive fan of the band or not, the sheer humility captured by Higgs and co resonates effortlessly.


True Faith will be on display at Manchester Art Gallery until Sunday 3rd September as a free event.

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