THE MURALS ON SITE
Between 1994 and 2006 three artists from Derry, brothers Tom and William Kelly and their friend Kevin Hasson, painted twelve large murals on the gable walls of a series of flats in the Bogside neighbourhood of their city. The Bogside, its name derived from the spill-over of the nearby River Foyle that once flooded the land outside the city walls, had been the centre of the pivotal incidents that sparked the Troubles.
The murals can be seen from Rossville Street which runs through the centre of the Bogside. Entirely supported by local residents’ donations, their official collective name is: The People’s Gallery.
The murals depict key moments in the neighbourhood’s history during the Troubles. The three artists, each born and raised in the Bogside, painted the murals in order to remember and commemorate the traumatic incidents that shaped the lives of them and their community.
For many years the Catholic population of Derry was treated as second-class citizens by the majority Protestant government and denied rights on proper housing, access to jobs and one man one vote.
In the late 1960’s, inspired by the civil rights movement in America, they started to organise marches to protest against this situation and to call for their rights to be treated as full British citizens.
The murals depict important moments of the Troubles to include the early Civil Rights Marches, the Battle of the Bogside, civil rights campaigner Bernadette Devlin McAliskey, Bloody Sunday, the Hunger Strike, Nobel Peace Prize winner John Hume and, not least, the death of many children, including family and friends of the artists.
Since the Peace Agreement, politicians on both sides have been keen rewrite history to their own advantage and re-brand Northern Ireland as an inclusive ‘post-conflict’ society. Yet, despite a peace agreement and a power-sharing government, its social fabric still contains deeply ingrained sectarian divisions.
The murals serve as talking points and sites for local people to process painful memories, especially when they are often urged ‘to draw a line under the past’ and ‘move on.’
At a time of new uncertainties about Northern Ireland’s future, and renewed discussions about borders in the post-Brexit political landscape, examining the wounds inflicted on ordinary people, including a whole generation of children and young people who lost out on any ordinary childhood and education, has never been more relevant.
This relevance is not confined to Northern-Ireland’s borders. While deeply rooted in the turbulence of local Bogside history, the images depicted capture universal human experiences that resonate with people from across the world, especially those from other regions of conflict or post-conflict. As a story of violations of civil rights, radicalisation and violence, truth recovery and peace, the murals’ universal story inevitably transcends their site-specific time and place.
In order to reflect on any lessons that may be learned from the experience of Northern Ireland, the travelling exhibition aims to provide a safe space for broad, inclusive cross-community conversations around the following themes:
ethno-religious discrimination and violations of civil rights
radicalisation and terrorism
peacebuilding and truth recovery
remembering the past in ‘post-conflict’ societies
the role of public art in commemorative healing and reconciliation