Visual History 11 – 2009-Present

!This page is – more than others – a work in progress!


Visual History 10 covered the years 2003 to 2009, ending with the second major re-imaging programme. This page continues to track the tension between the state agencies and the loyalist UDA and UVF; in general, there has been increase in PUL hooded gunmen despite continued muraling and support for muraling by state agencies

The major development, however, has been the rise of graffiti art and street art (together, aerosol art). As a starting point, we have thus chosen 2009, which is the year in which two wild-style writing festivals took place on the Cupar Way “peace” line. The greater part of this page is devoted to aerosol art and aerosol artists. In general, aerosol art has been confined to city centres and other shared spaces and has not (yet) provided much competition to political murals.

(i) Re-Re-Imaging. By 2010, state agencies such as the Arts Council, Belfast City Council, and the Housing Executive had firmly taken their place alongside the republican and loyalist muraling traditions.

(We can go further and say that by 2010, murals are considered a common and integral part of expression and communication in the north of Ireland, such that – in addition to the two sects and state agements – project managers and publicity coordinators in every sector are always thinking about murals and other forms of outdoor art: any project, whether it is new housing, a new business, or a new initiative, might well have a mural as part of its publicity campaign.)

The ‘re-imaging’ programmes of the 2000s had attempted to replace loyalist gunmen with historical and cultural themes from loyalism and subsequently with community murals and even completely neutral themes. (See Visual History 10 for a list of various “weakly sectarian” themes.) As time has gone on, however, these murals have been painted or attached to previously-unpainted walls rather than being re-imaging of existing murals. Hence, we refer to such works as “state-sponsored” rather than “re-imaged” in this page.

And for the loyalist paramilitary groups, a single engagement with state agencies seemed enough and – whether for ideological or pecuniary reasons – hooded gunmen began reappearing on walls from which they had previously been erased, often in historical or commemorative form but a fair number showing volunteers in ‘active’ poses.

Thus, this page documents the re-re-imaging of some cultural and community murals with (loyalist) gunmen. Also included in this section are some republican murals – or more often stencils and tarps, given their limited resources and support – from anti-Agreement (or “dissident” or “militant” or “physical force”) groups.

(ii) “Just A Lovely Mural?” The other main development from 2009 onward would seem to be the rise of graffiti art and street art.

In April 2009, Belfast writers and the Shankill ex-prisoners group EPIC organised a festival of 18 wild-style writers and graffiti artists on the Cupar Way “peace” line. This was the most significant recognition of graffiti art in Belfast to that point in time and it came from a sectarian community rather than any state agency. State agencies also took to the “peace” line in 2009, installing three pieces of what Visual History 10 calls “community art” along the wall. Over time, however, the concrete canvas has proven more suitable for wild-style writers/graffiti artists and for the signatures of tourist who have come to experience Belfast’s top “dark tourism” attraction. This history is described in the separate Visual History page, State Art vs Graffiti On The West Belfast “Peace” Line.

Graffiti, wild-style writing, and graffiti art were typically sprayed in abandoned places. Graffitist and artists used pseudonyms because their work was illegal. However, it has steadily gaining popularity, respectability, and commercial interest: the precursor to Meeting Of Styles began in 1997 and moved around to different European cities; NuArt began in 2001 (in Stavanger, Norway); Asalto began in 2005 (in Zaragoza, Spain); UpFest began in 2008 (in Bristol, UK); in 2008 Sheppard Fairey’s ‘Hope’ was the image of the Obama campaign; in 2008, the Urban Arts Forum in Belfast (sponsored by Coca-Cola) ran a course in aerosol art for youngsters (BelTel); Banksy was so well-known that a version of piece on the West Bank wall in Bethlehem was painted in Belfast in 2008 (see below) and Exit Through The Gift Shop was nominated for an Oscar and aired on terrestrial television in the UK in 2011.

Meeting Of Styles has remained a writing and graffiti-art festival (with 16 “meetings” in 2022) but street art is by far the more popular and more mainstream form. As street art moved out of abandoned and dilapidated spaces into full public view, its subject matter turned to images that would be found palatable by the general public. There was also an increase in detail and a broader range of colours which generally served to brighten the works. Early artists had used stencils in order to get their work up quickly and avoid detection and arrest; stencils are still widely used in street art but street artists now have the time to augment the stencilled part of any piece with free-hand spraying.

Unlike taggers and writers (and early artists like Banksy and ROA), street artists are not anonymous or even pseudonymous and indeed need to be self-promoting in order to generate invites to festivals and commissioned works, and to sell merch on sites such as Big Cartel (and, if necessary, enforce copyright claims). The economic potential of street art was enhanced by the rise of the portable technology (the iPhone had been released in 2007) and media-heavy social media (twitter had added the capacity for media in 2010, which is also the year that instagram was launched). The commercial fruits of street art have given aspiring artists another possible career-path. Many fine artists must also be portrait artists in order to supplement their income; the re-imaging programmes of the 2000s increased the opportunities for working with communities; art in the street was now another possibility. 

(It is for this reason that we rarely use the term “aerosol art” – it captures both graffiti artists and street artists, but (in the story of public painting in Northern Ireland, at least) the two types of artist are more different than the same. Street artist is perhaps the key term for understanding street art. That is, street art can be defined as the art produced by the type of artist who tries to make a living by spraying images in public spaces.)

In the context of types of public painting that has been considered so far in this Visual History, street art is not sectarian and only occasionally on a social theme and rarely community-based. Since it is non-sectarian, perhaps street art could function as an alternative to sectarian murals. That is, non-political art can play a political role in changing the nature of the political conversation, from a dispute between unionism and nationalism into a dispute over whether we should continue conceiving of ourselves in sectarian terms.

To this end, we might expect to see street art among sectarian art: “Why not paint a dog or a flower or a foreign movie star on the Falls or on the Shankill?” But in fact this hasn’t happened. Street artists haven’t gone into sectarian areas and, to repeat a principle from Visual History 10, only sectarian art is painted by muralists from sectarian areas in sectarian areas.

“But perhaps,” one might think, “even street art in the city centre competes with sectarian murals, as people will see it there and wish for a world in which street art was everywhere in the city (and ideally a world in which there is only street art)?” So far, this appears to be only a theoretical possibility; even if it’s true that the percentage of the population who do not primarily see the situation here in sectarian terms is (very gradually) increasing, it’s not clear to what extent this is a function of street art (or any other cross-community public art): the lack of street art in sectarian areas is an indicator of street art’s impotence, but it is possible that this lack is due to the “nones” not having a plurality in many areas; yet there is still no street art in non-sectarian areas of the city, but this might be because of a general distaste for public paintings.

At any rate, at present – a decade after street art in Belfast took off, roughly 2012 – street art has so far been confined to the city centre and to some specific shared spaces, such as the Cupar Way “peace” wall when visited by tourists (while writing and graffiti is generally confined to abandoned spaces). The pieces of street art in sectarian areas are notable for their small number; they are presented below. When will street art be painted outside the city centre and alongside murals?

Given what seems to be a quite rigid divide between shared spaces and sectarian areas, we might expect state agencies to promote street art, continuing on from the earlier waves of fine art and then community art. A little of this has happened; outside the city centre, the number of pieces painted in each area of Belfast can be counted on one hand. One reason is what was already stated above about the artists themselves not painting in sectarian areas: an operating principle of state sponsorship is that the artist works with the community to produce the work, and communities have not adopted street art. Street artists might similarly feel constrained by community work and prefer to spray images of their own design in neutral spaces (though we have do not yet have even anecdotal evidence for this). Another reason is that working with state agencies requires formal application and evaluation processes, whereas commercial sponsors do not have to worry about spending public money and take the social media photos and videos as sufficient evaluation. “Hit The North with Hennessy!” In sum, the state’s involvement in street art is less than might be expected, given its political potential for making an anti-sectarian argument.

To be clear, street art is exceedingly popular, much more so than political murals (with its sectarian oppositionalism) or social murals (with its entreaties to act better than normal and take care of others), and more broadly engaging than community art (with its localism). Since street art is personal rather than social or political, it’s open to the viewer to find value in the piece; those that do, do and those that don’t, don’t – there’s no question of what a viewer should feel or think, as there is with political murals and social murals. Personal is (potentially) global. And as such, in the Northern Ireland context, people from both sects can say “mine” to street art. But they do so only as individuals and the murals in areas outside the city centre remain reflective of the area’s politics or ‘community’, with some state-sponsored social messaging. Street art remains a form of individual expression rather than speaking for a community or interest group. In contrast to the political muralists, street artists are professional artists – hence the signatures, instagram accounts, and on-line shops.

The basic criticism of street art as a would-be competitor with the murals (political art) is similar to the criticisms of community art cited in Visual History 10: when compared to political art, it is not strongly affective; the “hit” that the viewer typically gets is small (and/because positive – modern street art is an art of peace and prosperity). Street art depicts a range of subjects and can provoke a variety of responses but the emotion it typically generates is “Fun!” or “Cool!”. (Quite often, street art is very skillfully done and one might also appreciate it along those lines if you know something about painting, stencilling, etc.)

If you are the kind of person who ignores or abhors (political) murals, of course, this is not a problem – you take your pistachio of pleasure and move on. But street art does not seem to want to rival the public art in semi-public spaces such as universities and city halls, attempting to make meaning for a community. Even large pieces, which have a degree of awesomeness just in virtue of their size, do not attempt awe or transcendence or inspiration with their themes. Think e.g. of James Earley’s horse in High Street (2015 X03030) – it’s large and up very high and so is awesome in those respects. (It’s also professionally done.) But while it might trigger some particular meaning in a horse-lover, it is mostly just a horse. Cool.

Similarly, works of street art rarely make reference outside themselves or to larger themes, except to popular culture. Nor is street art difficult to interpret, nor does it provoke conceptual reflection, as modern painting or sculpture can be and do. (It is instructive to look at the projects described in the Arts Council NI ‘Public Arts Handbook’ from 2005 (i.e. pre-re-imaging).) Some exceptions: MTO’s Son Of Protagoras (2014 X02245); Pandora’s Jar in Donegall Street by StarFighterA (2015 X03032); the Belfast Entries project from the City Council has employed street artists but required them to make a connection to the entries, which has generally meant the United Irishmen of the 1790s. (There is a separate Visual History page on the Belfast Entries Project.)

In short, there’s little strong emotional reaction or meaningful content in street art. Street art is of a type with the pleasant experience of photos and memes on social media: it gets a ‘thumbs up’ but the viewer immediately continues scrolling or swiping.

Street art as it is practiced in Belfast might exacerbate this problem: there is a lot of street art in Belfast (our 2022 survey counted 240 pieces of street art, compared to roughly 650 murals) and a good percentage of it has a very short life-span, partly because some of it is on construction-site hoardings, partly because some of it gets tagged, partly because some of it is replaced annually. All of these aspects increase the meaninglessness of street art and encourage an attitude that street is just one step above graffiti. It might be better to be more selective, producing fewer, larger, longer-lasting pieces. (Compare, e.g. Belfast’s street art with Waterford’s or Larne’s or the art from any small-town initiative.)

It might also be better if some/most street art was not individual and personal but from and directed at communities. If a piece of art is to stand in public, it should speak to a community, of some size or other. Not “This art is intended for you” but “This art is intended for youse”. (Compare e.g. Belfast’s street art with the Mural Arts programme in Philadelphia, USA, which sponsors large-scale community art.)

We continue to watch street art, as – despite the critiques advanced here – there has been some increase in the interaction between street art and political art, and street art’s geographical range has been expanding.

A final footnote is to note that some businesses also sponsor street art. And some of these pieces are in sectarian areas. While some of these sponsorships have been to represent (arguably) other themes but most have the business itself, or the type of business, as their theme. These are non-sectarian works and they are painted, but their function is commercial (as well as aesthetic). Business art is like advertising in that its primary function is to point out a business; if the artist achieves any personal expression in its painting, that is a bonus; if the viewer gets anything else from the piece, that is a bonus. One example of Ciaran Gallagher’s art in the Duke Of York is included below; others include Madden’s (pub) | Belfast Underground (records) Blackjack Tattoo | Glass Slipper (ballet and dancing shoes) | Thompson Crooks Solicitors | Pure Here and Harland & Wolf (Dirty Onion pub) | Ireland (White’s Tavern) | Angel (Bullit bar) | Ireland (Kelly’s Cellars) | Manny’s city centre | Manny’s north Belfast | Muddlers Club. Commercial ventures sometimes carry traces of their community past, such as the Stokers Halt. And there can be sectarian art on commercial buildings, for example, the WWI mural on the shutters of The Peppercorn café.


(i) Re-Re-Imaging

(The aim of this section is to give a flavor of the ebb-and-flow of state-sponsored murals vs. hooded gunmen murals in PUL areas. We present only a few images of state-sponsored art here. One reason for this is the difficulty in establishing a connection between a state agency and the production of a mural. Community groups are funded by the state and community groups produce murals but it’s often not clear that the funding from the state was granted for the express purpose of producing a mural. We are reasonably confident of the general claim that there are more murals because of state sponsorship, though any particular case might be subject to revision. Not included here are dozens of social (anti-drugs, pro-mental-health, etc) and community murals.)

As part of the re-imaging effort of 2010, this cross-community and anti-Troubles mural was painted in PUL east Belfast. A smaller version appeared in CNR east Belfast (i.e. the Short Strand area) – see X01514
(2016 dating to 2010 – it took many years to catch this wall without cars in the parking bay X03411)

Two murals were painted in Lendrick St. The first was organised by Charter NI and laments the destruction that war (WWII and the Troubles) has brought to PUL east Belfast.
M05643+(2010 M05643)

Hooded UVF gunmen take the place of a Glentoran Community Trust mural that had replaced a Blair Maine mural and before that a UVF mural. (See the BelTel article “Loyalist murals return to east Belfast“.)
(2011 X00422)

After 18 months on the Shankill Road, Rita Duffy’s Banquet was moved to the Cupar Way “peace” line (where it was soon vandalised by tourists). It had originally been produced via the Shankill Women’s Council with support from the Arts Council for 2011’s International Women’s Day and replaced a QEII 50th jubilee mural. It made way for a Covenant centenary board (X00622).
2012-09-19 DuffyWide+
(2012 X00644)

These flowers look like they could go on any wall, but they are flax flowers and represent the linen industry. They are thus in a loyalist area (of east Belfast). They were part of Belfast City Council’s ‘Renewing The Routes’ initiative. (Urban gardens in east Belfast have been painted with street art depicting nature: Connswater | Clandeboye StDonegall Pass.) The piece was on the site of a former RCH mural. It was produced by Deirdre Robb, a long-standing figure in the Belfast visual arts world; it was replaced in 2018 with a mural by a pair of Manchester street artists called Nomad Clan which showed a woman who (it was claimed) was gathering flax (X04833).
(2013 X00897)

The second Lendrick Street mural, below the first, and was part of the 2013 PUL east Belfast re-imaging (overseen by Charter NI, supported by Belfast City Council and the Housing Executive) that added and replaced murals in Templemore Ave (Ulster-Scots M02321 replaced by boxing X01387) and Kenbaan St (UFF M03376 replaced by Tim Collins X01440).
Instead of a black-and-white past of UDA men on parade (on the left), the colourful future (on the right) promises peace and diversity.(2013 X01278)

In 2013, in Sydenham, east Belfast, a George Best mural that had replaced a large UVF emblem was painted over and a new mural begun, featuring a hooded gunman with an assault rifle. Work on the mural was halted due to the controversy (BBC | Guardian | video | Slugger) but ultimately the mural went ahead as planned. Many parodies of the mural were produced using Photoshop, a selection of which can be seen here. The quote on the right – Freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed – comes from the section of Martin Luther King’s Letter From A Birmingham Jail in which he considers the merits of civil disobedience or direct action. He was not, of course, thinking of paramilitarism.

(2013 X01330)

Also in 2013, Long Kesh gunmen in Carlingford/Ardenvohr. This is a new mural rather than a re-re-paint. The mural was more controversial than the final image suggests. When finished, the figures on the right were in dress uniforms, one of them being a Great War soldier; as seen in the second image just below, however, the origin plan was to have two gunmen in fatigues in attendance, but locals protested (NewsLetter) and the mural was changed.
(2013 X01439)

(2013 X01436)

The repainted Kieran Doherty mural in Slemish Way drew criticism for its inclusion of hooded gunmen, even in a funeral scene. See the end of this section for physical-force CNR murals.
(2014 X02030)

Community groups often use funds to depict the people from their communities; these murals are typically historical but omit any mention of the Troubles. This is one of two boards together at the Rangers Supporters Club on the Shankill (but probably under the aegis of the Shankill Area Social History (SASH) group); the other is to Shankill women during the World Wars.
(2016 dating to 2015 X03151)

(Jumping ahead in time slightly …) Here is a montage of east Belfast luminaries that goes beyond the familiar pair of George Best and CS Lewis. With funding from the NI Executive.
(2017 X04102)

A number of Polish boards were put up in PUL areas. The Legend Of The 303 Polish Squadron looks like (and is) a WWII mural, but its function is to increase the tolerance of Protestant loyalists for immigrant Catholic Poles. For the centenary of the Armistice this piece was decorated with a Polish flag and rosetta (2018 X06325). See also Sosabowski (2016 X03418) in the Village.
(2015 X02994)

In 2015 the lower Shankill was re-imaged again. This piece was produced by Lesley Cherry and members of the Association, with support from the Housing Executive. Its intent was to call out the use of the word “resilient” as an excuse to neglect or maltreat neighbourhoods. It replaced a Scots-Irish mural (X00285).
03074 2015-10-01 Resilient+
(2015 X03074)

Also to suffer the mockery of the internet/social media (as with the replacement of George Best in Sydenham, above) was the repainted UFF mural at “Freedom Corner” in PUL east Belfast. The gunman dates back to 1991 but it was hoped that he would be replaced when the wall was repainted. Those hopes were disappointed: the new, red, version of the mural retained the gunman, despite claims that he would discourage tourists (Tele) – a dubious claim, given the rise of ‘dark tourism’ (see Visual History 10) and the fact that at the same time the lower Shankill was losing so many of its paramilitary murals due to a combination of re-imaging (including Stop Calling Me Resilient, above) and redevelopment of the area (see Hopewell Razed). The gunman was defended as “historical” though he was not named as any particular historical loyalist or depicted in a way that would assign him to any particular period of the past. (2015 X03943)

However, the gunman was lampooned for his odd expression, mis-sized hands, and (especially) for his bendy gun. He seemed to have weathered the storm of mockery but once the hubbub died down, he and the pistol and scroll on the right were replaced by a list of east Belfast brigades.

(2017 X04872)

Blue Queen in Rockview (seen in Visual History 10) replaced by a UDA mural. The volunteers here carry sticks rather than assault rifles and their faces are obscured by sunglasses and scarves rather than balaclavas.
(2017 X04591)

A ‘memorial’ UDA mural, using only emblems, replaced the King Billy (X04465) that had replaced Village Eddie (M02487).
(2017 X04399)

A North Down Defenders mural replaced the Bingham mural (X01030) that had replaced a paramilitary mural. This is perhaps due to the tension between factions of the UDA in north Down, rather than a general resurgence of loyalist paramilitarism.

(2018 X06076)

This mental health board was supported by the Education Authority; it is surrounded by local threats against drug dealers. CNR west Belfast.
(2018 X04861)

Anti-Agreement Republican Murals

Physical-force republicanism has limited support and its wall art was initially limited to graffiti and stencils. 

However, it was eventually been able to produce larger images on boards and tarps, and in Derry, painted murals. The tarp below in north Belfast’s Ardoyne neighbourhood. The small image on the right, of a home-made rocket-launcher, was a photograph taken and distributed in November 2014. It caused a stir both because of the type of weapon but also because it was home-made. It would appear in a number of republican murals in Belfast and Derry.

(2015 X02585)

(2016 X03574. See also X03616 in Westland St)

(2018 dating to 2016 X06366)

The resurgence of gunmen in murals is good for “dark tourism”, a concept introduced in Visual History 10.

(ii) “Just A Lovely Mural?”

Most graffiti art is wild-style writing in abandoned spaces, while most street art is cool pictures in the city centre. We invite the reader who doubts the claim that these descriptors fit the majority of graffiti art and street art to peruse the blog or the map.

In the following selection of images we show cases that are – in some way – exceptions to these descriptors: street art or graffiti art in sectarian areas; street artists, graffiti artists or community artists painting cultural or paramilitary pieces in sectarian areas; street and graffiti artists painting on social themes or political themes or even local sectarian themes.

KVLR’s mural on the outside of the John Hewitt bar might be the oldest piece of street art in Belfast. The John Hewitt was set up in 1999 by Belfast Unemployed Resource Centre (BURC | Belfast Media) and the mural was painted in 2000 (Turkington). Its message is a “global” political one, in support of bicyles and smart urban planning.

2014-06-18 BikeRevolution+
(2014 originally dating to 2000 X01978)

In 2004 (or 2003) Liam Gillick’s Quantum Gravity piece is installed in (CNR) lower Ormeau (M04979). According to Gillick’s web site, “His work exposes the dysfunctional aspects of a modernist legacy in terms of abstraction and architecture when framed within a globalized, neo-liberal consensus, and extends into structural rethinking of the exhibition as a form.”

There was graffiti art on the side of Vogue hairdressers in Glen Parade going back to 2008 (usually by TMN’s AKEN, with others from the crew). Although this is a CNR area, the wall is in a somewhat peripheral location (on the edge of Andersonstown) and possibly with the permission, support, and protection of the business. Here is an eagle painted in 2010. The post office staging box has a “political status now” poster on it. In 2018 the graffiti art was painted over in favour of a Saoradh mural.
(2010 X00349)

As mentioned in the introduction, by 2008 Banksy was so well-known that two muralists painted a version of Banksy’s 2005 West Bank “peace” wall stencil in CNR west Belfast. Instead of a tropical paradise, the hole in the wall reveals the Cave Hill in north Belfast:
2009-09-22 BelfastBanksy+
(2008 X00311)

In 2009, street artist VERZ was one of four artists involved in the re-imaging of the lower Shankill estate, painting two pieces: ’69 Gold Rush (X00298) and Martin Luther (X00301).

Wild-style writing festivals took place in April and August 2009 on the Cupar Way “peace” line – see the separate page on State Art vs Graffiti On The West Belfast “Peace” Line. These festival brought writers from around Ireland and the UK to Belfast.

In 2009 or 2010, French stencil artist Jef Aérosol created three pieces in (CNR) west Belfast. The one below was on Northumberland Street; the other two can be seen in The Accordion Player.
D01932 2010-06-12 Aerosol Northumberland+
(2010 D01932)

“Condensed Community Confidence” is “out of stock” at the North Street end of the North Street Arcade that was burnt out in 2004; artist unknown. See also Who Burnt Us Out? (graffiti from 2004) and North Street Will Rise Again (dating to 2012) by Verz.

00426 2011-06-27 CampbellsSoups+
(2011 X00426)

In June, 2011, Glasgow street artist SMUG reproduced a photograph of the funeral cortège of Richard Mussen on the Shankill (X00490).

Street artists Friz and Ed Hicks were hired to paint in PUL east Belfast in 2012. They were sponsored by East Belfast Arts Festival “in conjunction with the Lower Castlereagh Community Group, East Belfast Partnership, and kindly funded by the Lloyds TSB Foundation”. Here is Hicks’s completed piece:

2012-09-13 HicksMural+
(2012 X00628)

The pieces by SMUG, Friz, and Hicks are all in areas with sectarian (PUL) murals (and with the co-operation of local groups). Street art in the city centre really took off when a night of street art in North Street was incorporated into Culture Night Belfast 2012 (which then gained its own name – “Hit The North” (HTN) – in 2013). The following image, however, shows a piece done by an art student in a fine-art (constructivist? suprematist?) style. Nothing like this has been attempted since, perhaps because it was soon obliterated by a NIKO tag.
2012-09-25 PraiseFinished+(2012 X00656)

The unfortunate record for quickest destruction of a piece of street art by graffitists goes to Dublin street-artist ADW’s contribution to HTN 2015, which was destroyed only hours after completion. (See also An Essay On The Necessity Of Art | Fuck Art | A Dialogue On The Nature Of Art.)

The graffitists occasionally have something to say. The Sun Will Make You Blind in the city centre was a rare piece of political art from TMN, which is a collective of graffiti artists – railing against The Sun newspaper, owned by Rupert Murdoch. In addition to its support of Margaret Thatcher, the paper was also notorious for its coverage of the Hillsborough football disaster – see Total Eclipse Of The Sun and Hold Your Head Up High.
2013-07-08 TheSun+
(2013 X01179)

In 2013 and 2014, street artist JMK painted two murals in Tigers Bay, on the WWII blitz (2013) and on different roles taken during WWI (2014).

In 2015, fine artist Debi Cornwall installed photographs of Guantanamo Bay in a shipping container in Buoy Square.
2015-06-15 GitmoPhotos1+
(2015 X02655)

Some of Ciaran Gallagher’s art provides commentary on politics in Northern Ireland and the UK but does so by focusing on issues that “all people of good sense” can agree upon. Here is his comment on “Namagate” in 2015 in the courtyard of the Dark Horse bar in the city centre. The message here is perhaps a general “anti-politician” or “anti-corruption” one, rather than being aimed at any specific political party. See also his chronicling of the Conservative leadership turmoil (Boris Johnson – Liz Truss – Rishi Sunak) in 2022: And In The Blue Corner … (Truss vs. Sunak) | It’s A Knockout! (Truss wins) | Broken Promises (Truss crisis) | Ship Of Fools (additional election).
(2015 X02791)

Simiarly, the RHI (Renewable Heat Incentive) scandal drew some comment from aerosol artists. This piece showed Arlene Foster as a dragon-formed dealer; another gave the a recipe for Foster & Bell’s Flaming Hot Tottie.
03971-2016-12-24-heatingemptybarns-w(2016 X03971)

In 2016 ANCO and CASP wrote in Islandbawn St and in Linden St. Geographically, these pieces are squarely among sectarian murals (in republican Beechmount and lower Falls). It is not known what permission or support they received. The Islandbawn Street piece did not last beyond May 2018, as can be seen on Street View; the Linden St piece was replaced in 2018 by a Saoradh mural.

Islandbawn Street, in (CNR) Beechmount.(2016 X03558)

And this is their piece in the (CNR) lower Falls:
(2016 X03571)

The Belfast Bankers and the Hit The East festival of 2017 are the most bold move out of the city centre and into a community, in this case, loyalist Newtownards Road. (The group was previously The Loft in North Street in the city centre.) The pieces done for the Hit The East festival are tucked safely out of sight in an alley, and painted all together, but one piece, by emic, was on the main Newtownards Road, next to the Bankers’ home in the unused Ulster Bank building. The mural did not last two years before being painted out. (In 2016, emic had been hired to paint a suicide-prevention mural in west Belfast. See A Lifeboat From Despair 2016 X03671.)
(2017 X04379)

The collective next moved to the old Metropolitan College premises in Tower Street (also east Belfast) and became The Vault. Their tenure in east Belfast will end in March 2023 when they will move (mainly) to the Shankill Mission.

The only sectarian-directed commentary in the city centre has come from TLO (Three Letter Organisation) who has directly criticised loyalism. Here, for example, is TLO’s take on the use of tyres in pyres, which is not allowed for bonfires receiving funds from the Bonfire Management Programme. After receiving criticism from within his own (PUL) community, TLO stopped producing posters in 2019 (source: personal conversation). The five years of TLO posters can be seen at Ornamental Hermit.

(2017 X04075)

A mural was painted to Lyra McKee, a young journalist shot and killed by a member of the New IRA while observing a riot in Derry. The mural was painted in (Belfast) city centre but note that it taps into the ‘It gets better’ campaign and gay rights rather than/as well as the sectarian dimension to her killing – the quotation is from a letter McKee wrote in later life to her 14 year-old self.

06583 2019-05-09 Lyra Stop+
(2019 X06583)

In Derry, two murals were painted by street artists in late 2019 to coincide with an “Art And The Great Hunger” exhibition. This one was by Shane O’Malley; the other was by OMIN (X08448).x11109-2022-08-03-st-columba
(2023 dating to 2019 X11109)

In 2020, street artist Glen Molloy painted The Relief Of Derry in Tullyally, Londonderry (X07156).

The Covid lockdown of 2020-2021 brought out a satirical graffitist in east Belfast who went by the name of Hallion and wrote on walls suspiciously close to the Vault. In Tower Street: Wash Your Hawnds and Wash Yer Hands. To the east of Westbourne St: In This Together | Except For Cummings | Wear A Mask. On the corner of Westbourne St: Wear A Mask Or The Easter Bunny Gets It | Thran Rights Nai (shown below) | Where’s Our 600 Quid?

(2022 X10304)

Unlock Your Lockdown by Laura Nelson and Leo Boyd for Women’s Aid NI. 07779-2020-12-03-unlock-your-lockdown
(2020 X07779)

The Belfast Entries project saw support for street artists to produce pieces in the entries of the old centre of Belfast city that were related to Belfast in the 18th and 19th centuries. For many, this meant murals on the United Irishmen, a political group from the 1790s pledged to Irish independence, but less threatening to modern viewers because “cross-community” in its membership and aims. The Irishmen were generally associated with “progressive” causes of the day, such as the amerlioration of poverty, maternal care for women (see X11550), and the abolition of slavery, as in this mural (by London artist Dreph in Joy’s Entry) of Olaudah Equiano, who visited Belfast in the winter of 1791-1792 and stayed with United Irishman Samuel Neilson. (The Belfast Entries Project has its own Visual History page.)
(2023 dating to 2020 T01709)

This geisha (below) was one of two pieces painted by London street artist Dan Kitchener with organisation and support from Shankill community groups. It is obviously a very skillful piece, done with freehand spraying and not using stencils at all. But – despite its suggestive official title, “Hope” – it drew only incomprehension, especially given its position above “Conor’s Corner”, itself a re-imaging of the UVF/Shankill Protestant Boys mural at the top of Northumberland Street with a tribute to local (fine) artist William Conor. One twitter user (echoed by various others) asked, “What is it’s [sic] relevance to the Shankill? Or is it just a lovely mural?”
(2021 X08220)

This next image is a UDA mural from the repainted “Freedom Corner” in east Belfast but we include it here because it was painted by Blaze FX, a pair of artists who specialise in ‘schools and community’ murals.
x11590-2022-09-27-freedom-corner-10-d3(2022 X11590)

Other Blaze FX pieces for the UDA include the Stormont mural in Kilburn Street (X00850 2012), the Tommy Herron mural in Bangor (X06858 2019), and the ‘sunglasses’ mural in Avoniel Road (X09779 2021). See also the ‘Proud, Defiant Welcoming’ version of Welcome To The Shankill Road (X06703 dating to 2009).

Wee Nuls’s mural for free period items was originally painted in March 2021 beside Transport House but painted out almost immediately. This new version, with redacted chest and crotch, is at Artcetera in Rosemary Street.

(2021 X08644 which also contains an image of the (unredacted) sticker based on the original mural)

Republican graffiti in west Belfast (in support of the people of Donetsk) was obliterated (perhaps after even-earlier damage) by a giant MASH tag. This is a first for a writer – the ANCO + CASP collaborations shown above did not overwrite anything.
(2022 X10497)

There were also several pieces in support of the Ukrainian people, one in the city centre by FGB (Ukraine Has Suffered Enough) and another by emic in (non-sectarian) south Belfast (Take These Seeds). In east Belfast, a Ukrainian flag was added to the Maya Angelou mural that had been vandalised in July 2021 (X10737 2022).

Leo Boyd produced a ‘No war’ poster, showing a Russian bomb turning the planet into a graveyard.
(2022 X09930)

By Visual Waste for International Women’s Day 2022, with sponsorship from Children In Crossfire.
(2022 X09747)

‘Graffiti On The Wall’ is a programme from Derry Féile to sponsor art in the neighbourhoods around the Gasyard. The word “graffiti” in the title – rather than “murals” or “art” is interesting – perhaps it suggests that murals are graffiti, or that the word “graffiti” is being reclaimed. For a narrower use of the term “graffiti”, it’s notable that at the same time a graffiti-removal programme was initiated by the city – Derry Journal. (In 2018, the BBC called Hit The North a “graffiti festival”.)

The ‘Graffiti On The Wall’ pieces (so far) are:
spray-can art on small boards produced by students at St Joseph’s Boys secondary in Creggan, under the direction of Peaball artists;
nature scenes by RAZER (?and others from Peaball Arts?) in Holy Child PS, Creggan;
James McClean by ACHES in Creggan (shown below);
a festival producing about nine pieces of wild-style writing and graffiti art by various artists including Friz, in the Brandywell;
Every Child Needs Someone To Look Up To or Baby Jake by RAZER in the Brandywell;
the word “Brandywell” painted by young people under the direction of NOYS (?and other Peaball artists?) in Brandywell;
Nasc by NOYS in the Brandywell.
These are all street artists or wild-style writers and the walls they painted on were in CNR areas (Creggan and Brandywell), though the works would seem to fall generally into the category of ‘community’ muraling, as compared with the ‘personal’ category of the Dan Kitcheners in the Shankill or the street art in east Belfast. (Indeed, since James McClean is famous for his politics as well as his footballing, the mural to him might border on ‘political’, in which case we could wonder if Communities In Transition is happy with what Graffiti On The Wall has done. In any case, this appears to be the first and certainly most concerted initiative to deploy street artists in a CNR area, even if they are not painting street art.

(2022 X10289)

This piece by Asbestos for HTN22 is a commentary on life in the social-media era.
(2022 X10206)

In 2022, community artists Peaball made an exception for John Hume in Derry. “We are not political at all but John Hume is in a league of his own.”
(2022 X10031)

Key to reference numbers. Thanks to all of the following for the use of their images. Andy McDonagh/Eclipso Pictures (ig | Fb) M = Peter Moloney Collection – Murals T = Paddy Duffy X = Extramural Activity

This material copyright © Extramural Activity 2018-2023. Images are copyright of their respective photographers.

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