ART & PEACEBUILDING
Art and Peace Building
At first glance it may seem surprising to see the murals as potential instruments of peace and reconciliation. For many they are unwelcome reminders of a past they would rather put behind them and forget.
Many politicians want to re-brand Northern Ireland as a safe, dynamic and inclusive post-sectarian society that is economically viable and forward looking. Northern Ireland never had – and never may have – a proper truth recovery and reconciliation process. Although it now has a peace agreement, it is not ‘post-conflict.’ Some even call the current power-sharing government ‘institutionalised sectarianism,’ with the two main parties merely dividing up the ‘spoils of war.’ With ordinary citizens often urged not to ‘dwell on the past,’ many survivors are not only left without due public recognition of their plight and losses, but are rendered voiceless.
Against that background, the murals of the Bogside Artists provide talking points to think about the past and process painful memories. Unlike typical sectarian murals, which can be found all over Northern Ireland, the murals of The People’s Gallery are not political propaganda, declarations of identity, or territorial markers. While continuing the Northern Irish tradition of using murals as a vehicle for social commentary, they also subvert that tradition in their conspicuous absence of political or ideological slogans. There are no balaclavas, rifles, flags or paramilitary signs or emblems. There are no shamrocks, harps or any other symbols referring to Irish history or identity. There are no images containing threat or intimidation or that glorify any form of violence. Instead the murals of the Bogside Artists tell the stories of the Troubles as experienced by them and their community as they grew up in these extraordinary times.
The murals provide a safe talking point to process painful memories and raise difficult and controversial questions.
They question why the British media routinely represented the Catholic uprising as a local tribal religious squabble that needed British intervention, rather than a legitimate civil rights protest that was part of a larger global movement.
They question who authorised the violence that afflicted their community, whether by outside forces or by those from within their own ranks.
They question whether all hunger strikers died on the base of their own convictions or whether some were used as sacrificial lambs.
They question why the killers of so many children, whether deliberate or accidental, were never brought to justice.
They question how so many with a criminal past and blood on their hands ended up in positions of power and public office.
Storytelling and Reconciliation
For many visitors coming from conflict or post-conflict societies outside Northern Ireland, the images resonate with their experiences. Moreover, they enable and facilitate cross-community conversation around shared experiences seen from different perspectives and contexts. Listening to each other’s stories is an indispensable step in fostering mutual understanding and reconciliation. The exhibition aims to foster these important conversations, recognising them as preconditions for the proper building of peace.