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.
This blog records the changes in muraling occurring circa 2012-2016, as well as graffiti expressing the topics of the day.
The archetypal mural in Belfast is …
- directly onto a wall (or other surface which serves a function such as a shutter or gate)
- to depict an image concerning the Troubles, either something expressly paramilitary or some aspect of one community’s historical and/or cultural background
- and is sponsored by the local community, at least in the minimum sense that it has community approval, and might be financially or materially supported;
- however, this approval or support is nowhere evident in the mural and neither is the mural signed by the artist(s)
Many such murals are still (2016) being painted in Belfast, but each aspect listed above is subject to variation. Wall art might be
- sprayed (either free-hand or using a stencil) or pre-printed, sometimes using a digital computer
- onto boards which are then affixed to walls
- concerning topics that are in weakly or in no way sectarian (e.g. not paramilitary and not even historical or cultural; they concern topics such as daily life (especially in years gone by), global causes such as racism, public health issues such as suicide prevention, children’s and youth imagery); these are intended to be cross-community. We should also note the rise of street art, which tends to be non-sectarian and is often cartoonish in style, some of which is being placed on “peace” lines, where one might expect sectarian art instead.)
- with sponsorship by businesses or heritage groups or state organisations (the latter two are intended to demonstrate that the piece is either non-sectarian or intended to express the culture positively)
- the sponsorship is acknowledged on the piece or on a plaque next to it and it is signed (or at least marked) by the artist(s)
(See also the Glossary of terms used to categorise posts; for example, the blog’s main categorisation is murals, boards, posters, stencils, graffiti.)
The archetypal mural instructs or reaffirms the community in a communal political/paramilitary identity; at the other end of the spectrum we have pieces that are merely decorative or have (only) aesthetic meaning (personal tags and much of what goes under the name “street art” would be included in these latter categories).
The main trend in Belfast wall-art is the move away from paramilitary murals and towards (positive) cultural murals and, ultimately, entirely non-sectarian images. These might express a cultural or historical moment, or have a local identity, but are intended to be a positive expression of a culture, rather than an oppositional one.
In 2012, for example, there was much attention paid to the one-hundredth anniversary of the sinking of Titanic. Titanic was built in Belfast, and is a symbol of Protestant industry. However, there was an attempt to make Titanic a cross-community icon, perhaps made easier by the fact that the sinking had entered world-wide culture. Various murals and boards relating to Titanic were sponsored by Belfast City Council and an organisation called the Titanic Foundation. Titanic was even the subject of a mural in Republican west Belfast outside an Irish-language school.
Similarly, the move of Sinn Féin into parliamentary politics has meant a moderation in aggressively paramilitary muraling. To some extent, the strength of the so-called “dissident” Republican movement can be measured by the sophistication of its wall-work. It is noticeable that, so far, it consists mostly of graffiti and stencils (as well as printed flyers). On the loyalist side, however, present-day paramilitary organisations can be found on large-scale and prominent murals, featuring hooded gunmen rather than named volunteers of the past (though for a notable exception see C. Coy Street). (Here is a good Telegraph article on the changing subject matter of murals.)