Extramural Activity is a blog of murals, street art, and graffiti from the north of Ireland/Northern Ireland, particularly Belfast. There are occasional non-wall photographs, and occasionally images from other places.
The main camera is a Canon EOS 400D, typically with an 18-55mm lens, though sometimes with a 55-250mm. Also used is a Canon EOS 5D Mark II with a 24-70mm Sigma lens. For editing, we use Photoshop and DxO Viewpoint. Watermarking is a regrettable necessity of publishing photographs in the digital age; our goal is that the watermark should be invisible at a glance but obvious upon inspection.
The name “Extramural Activity” was what came to mind, once it was clear that the obvious names/web addresses – such as “belfastmurals” and so on – were taken. Many schools and council districts send out catalogues of ‘extramural activities’ or ‘extramural education’ to local residents, encouraging them to try such things as playing a recreational sport, learning a foreign language, or developin artistic skills. These classes take place at nights or on weekends, outside the normal working routine. And as a name for the blog, “extramural activity” conveys the idea that murals are to some extent an “outside” activity: there’s the official line, the mainstream news, the point of view that comes from the top down, and there are the murals and graffiti on the streets, which has a different source and takes a different perspective. The names suggests that other things are being said, out there on the streets, that are important to the people who produced them and the communities they live in. (In this light, the recent (2006 onward) entry by state agencies into muraling shows that murals were successful in broadening the conversation which the state now wishes to control or at least participate in.)
The name also avoids having to refer to a place — ‘Belfast’, say — which might suggest that there aren’t murals in other places and allows us to include images from elsewhere, even though we are based in Belfast. And if you wanted a name that grouped all of those places together, what would that be? Murals of Northern Ireland? Murals of the North of Ireland? Of the Six Counties? Ulster Murals? Every such title sends the “right” message to some people and the “wrong” message to others. (If we became a site dedicated to republican murals, or to loyalist murals, we would triple our viewership overnight. If we were dedicated to street art, it would be even more. People love street art, perhaps more so around here because it’s not sectarian — that’s the reason we include street art on the blog: because it gives people another vision of the role that public art can play.)
The goal of each post is to explain the contents of each image and provide some context, since it might come from a neighbourhood or a “side”, or have a background, or a history, that the viewer is not familiar with.
The collection, as it grows, inspires other, deeper, questions: why are there murals? Why paint in public? Who paints in public? Why aren’t murals signed and dated? Why didn’t murals go away, now that there is peace? (In fact, there are more murals now than ever before.) And many questions about how murals have changed over time: Why does stenciling wax and wane in popularity? Why are a lot of pieces now done on boards and nailed to the wall? Where did the doves go in murals? Where has Cú Chulainn gone of late? When did Bobby Sands become an icon? Why are the some paramilitaries bare-faced but others hooded? And so on. For answers to a few of these questions, see What Is A Mural? and the Glossary, and especially the Visual History pages. For the material that provides the source material for historical interpretation, see the main archives of mural images: Peter Moloney’s collection and Tony Crowley’s collection, both of which go back to the 1980s. All of the information from both of their collections and from Extramural Activity is (gradually) being gathered together on the map.