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.
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 neutral themes. But for the loyalist paramilitary groups, one engagement with state agencies seemed enough and hooded gunmen began reappearing, though often in historical or commemorative form rather than as active threats. Despite this resistance, state agencies have continued to be very much in the mural business and as time has gone on they have moved more towards simply sponsoring works of their own on new and previously unpainted walls rather than negotiating for the re-imaging of existing walls.
Indeed, it is fair to say that murals are seen as a common and integral part of expression and communication in the north of Ireland, such that project managers and publicity coordinators in every sector – paramilitary, political, social, cultural, etc. – 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, needs a mural.
This page adds a few more of the many murals on various of the themes described in Visual History 10 as “weakly sectarian” – sporting murals, community murals – and as “non-sectarian” – the lives of children, the lives of women, human rights, the environment, social issues, and public safety murals.
It also documents the return of the (loyalist) gunmen and, on the republican side, murals – or more often stencils and tarps, given their limited resources and support – from so-called “dissident” groups.
If this page feels somewhat inchoate, that’s because it is. This might be the result of it being too soon to tell what the important trends of the decade are, or it might be a reflection of our confused political situation: the dispute between unionism and nationalism goes on alongside the dispute over whether we should continue conceiving of ourselves in sectional terms.
The other main development in the 2010s would seem to be the rise of street art. Street art is typically produced as a form of individual expression rather than speaking for a community and it is correspondingly aimed at individual passers-by and not at a community. The artist expresses herself and anyone who finds value in the piece does so and those that don’t, don’t. In addition to funding community projects, state agencies are also involved in supporting street artists, both to produce personal pieces and also on occasion to produce pieces on social themes such as suicide prevention.
Because of its ‘cool’ factor, street art is typically more engaging than community art (with its localism) or social art (with its entreaties to act better than normal), and if having a global or non-sectarian theme allows people from both sects to say “mine”, it might have some promise in moving people away from sectarian identities. (And whether this is then a Northern Irish identity or a shared identity of some local kind is an open question.)
One might think, “I 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. To repeat our general principle from Visual History 10, the rules of public art seem to stipulate both that sectarian art is painted in sectarian areas and that only sectarian art is painted in sectarian areas.
Street art, we claim, 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). Distinguishing street art (and other non-sectarian art) from sectarian murals could be useful in the arc described in these pages, of the gradual softening of public art, but street art so far plays a theoretical role, as something that might be effective in (what are currently) sectarian communities. In terms of the larger story of (sectarian) muraling, street art is only interesting if it in some way serves as a competitor to sectarian art, being painted in the same vicinity as sectarian art, or perhaps being used in the re-imaging of a sectarian piece, or possibly even coming into direct conflict with sectarian art, as competition for walls to paint increases.
The pieces of street art in sectarian areas are notable for their small number, possibly zero:
• There has been writing or street art on the side of Vogue hairdressers in Glen Parade going back to 2008, but this is a somewhat peripheral location (on the edge of Andersonstown) and possibly with the permission, support, and protection of the business; moreover, in 2018 the street art was painted over in favour of a Saoradh mural.
• In 2016 ANCO and CASP wrote in Islandbawn St and in Linden St. These pieces are squarely among sectarian murals (in republican Beechmount and lower Falls). It is not known what permission or support they received. The Linden St piece was later replaced by a Saoradh mural.
• In 2012, Friz and Ed Hicks each painted pieces in east Belfast. These pieces are adjacent to sectarian art. 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”.
• 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. (Compare with the previous location of 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, is on the main Newtownards Road, next to the Bankers’ home in the unused Ulster Bank building (and some of the Falco1 piece encroaches onto the streets). This is not yet the paradigm case of an individual artist feeling free to paint a wall in full view of the community and confident that it has some chance of acceptance but it is a step in that direction. It might be that individual street artists need some protection if they are to paint in sectarian areas, whether from a funding body or from a business or, as in this case, because there is a bunch of artists all together, a community of street artists, working in a sectarian area and enough of them to mean that the area says “This public art is ours.” Whether the Belfast Bankers have achieved this in east Belfast remains to be seen. And whether more such ventures will be undertaken in future likewise remains to be seen. When will street art be painted outside the city centre and alongside murals? Answer: when the community wants it. Do republicans want street art in their areas? Do loyalists want street art in theirs? Even if them’uns (the other side) also have it?
Several pieces of street art are included here, especially those that have some political or social role.
We might also distinguish street art as expressing a personal aesthetic from street art used by businesses. There have been various murals sponsored by businesses in sectarian areas. 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. For some examples, see Blackjack Tattoo | Glass Slipper (ballet and dancing shoes) | Thompson Crooks Solicitors | Pure Here (Dirty Onion pub). Commercial ventures sometimes carry traces of their community past, such as the Stokers Halt. There can be sectarian art on commercial buildings, for example, the WWI mural on the shutters of The Peppercorn café.)
“For club and country” – that is, for Linfield and Northern Ireland.(2013 X00926)
English soccer club Leeds United was included alongside Celtic in this mural in Creggan (Derry). It is rare to see an English club (other than Manchester United in George Best murals) included in a mural by either sect:
(2016 dating to 2011 X03658)
Belfast Celtic was a west Belfast soccer team from 1891 to 1949. Their home ground ‘Paradise’ is now the Park Centre, where there is a museum to the club. The mural is in nearby St James’s. The “rediscovery” of Belfast Celtic provides a “premier’ local Catholic soccer team to use in murals, in parallel Linfield and Glentoran. (Not to be confused with Donegal Celtic.)
(2011 dating to 2010 X00385)
Olympic boxer Michael Conlan is claimed for republican west Belfast by a Tricolour, knotwork (incorporating the Olympic rings), and the shields of the four provinces. The mural is notably sponsored by commercial enterprises The Beehive (a pub) and McPeakes (a fancy dress and DIY store).(2012 X00584)
As discussed previously, community ‘murals’ are typically historical but omit any mention of the Troubles.
“Save The Shankill”(2016 X03151)
Here is a montage of east Belfast luminaries that goes beyond the familiar pair of George Best and CS Lewis.(2017 X04102)
This Lendrick St mural was part of the 2013 PUL east Belfast re-imaging 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 addition to Cuchulainn and Titanic (see Visual History 10), a few more images have appeared in areas on both sides. This piece in Irish – on the hoarding around Cultúrlann while it was extended in 2011 – had a companion piece in English just below the ‘Looking To A Better Future’ mural just above, showing showing images of ‘war’ on the left and ‘peace’ on the right and overall urging ‘understanding’ X01280.(2011 X01279)
And a smaller version of this PUL east Belfast mural appeared in CNR east Belfast (i.e. the Short Strand area) X01514
(2016 dating to 2010 – it took many years to catch this wall without cars in the parking bay – X03411)
Social Issues – Immigration
The social issue that came most to the fore during this period was immigration from eastern Europe. For economic reasons, more immigrants settled in loyalist than in republican areas, but anti-racism messages have been directed at both sides.
West Against Racism Network have had murals in republican areas since 2010. The mural below reminds CNRs that they have been the subject of racism and hopes to avoid a repetition of such treatment against the Roma.
“The Legend Of The 303 Polish Squadron”. This looks like (and is) a WWII mural, but its main function is to increase the tolerance of Protestant loyalists for Catholic Poles.(2015 X02994)
A number of Polish murals have been put up in PUL areas: see also Sosabowski (2016 X03418) and the centenary of the Armistice (2018 X06325).
“Multiculturalism Is Genocide” flyers on Lord Street (PUL east Belfast). It’s not known who put them up but it is clear that they did not meet with universal approval in the area, though they have proven difficult to remove.(2016 X03365)
“Refugees Welcome”, specifically Somali refugees, in CNR west Belfast.
Social Issues – Suicide Prevention
The Liverpool anthem “You’ll Never Walk Alone” is used in CNR west Belfast to promote a suicide helpline.(2013 X01138)
This suicide-prevention mural trades on the success of the Marvel movies in the 2010s.(2018 X04727)
“A Lifeboat From Despair” painted by a street artist in republican west Belfast for a suicide-prevention agency.
Social Issues – Anti-Drugs
Pac-Man and Sonic The Hedgehog push an anti-drugs message in lower Shankill. “Play with drugs? You lose. Game over.”
Threats against drug dealers appear with some frequency in CNR communities.
This Amnesty International mural, with input from the youth at Pilots Row Youth Club, protests child labour in the fashion industry.(2017 X04272 Replaced in 2018 by an environmental mural Bees & Wildflowers X06396)
This is just one panel from a long mural of Disney characters in Sliabh Dubh View.
Rita Duffy’s Banquet – this piece was initially mounted in a prime spot on the Shankill but was subsequently moved to the Cupar Way tourist destination that is the “peace” line.
Maureen Sheehan Health Care Centre
Women’s Voices Matter, in lower Shankill.
Two “Demand Dignity” murals from Amnesty International, showing little people suffering at the hands of capitalists, were painted on each side of the security gates on Northumberland St.
On the loyalist site (at Beverley Street) …
These flowers look like they could go on any wall, but they are flax flowers, and so represent the linen industry and so are in a loyalist area (of east Belfast). It’s not clear whether their purpose is to remind people of nature, and/or of industry, and/or of the Protestant Ascendancy.
Joe Caslin’s Love Wins. Gay rights murals have so far been kept to the city centre.
Hooded gunmen again began to appear in greater numbers, and in some cases they reclaimed walls that in the interim had been given over to cultural or community murals.
In 2013, in Sydenham, 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 | U.tv 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.
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.
The repainted Kieran Doherty mural in Slemish Way likewise drew criticism for its inclusion of hooded gunmen, even in a funeral scene.
Also to suffer the mockery of the internet (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 section below on the “peace” line) 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 Women’s Voices Matter, above) and redevelopment of the area (see Hopewell Razed X03141). The gunman was defended as “historical”. (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.
A ‘memorial’ UDA mural replaced the King Billy that had replaced Village Eddie.
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.
“Dissident” Republican Murals
Physical-force republicanism has limited support and its wall art was initially limited to graffiti and stencils.
However, it has eventually been able to produce larger images. In north Belfast’s Ardoyne neighbourhood, these have often been on tarps. The small image on the right of the tarp below, of a home-made rocket-launcher, was a photograph take 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.
(2018 dating to 2016 X06366)
Dark Tourism Along The “Peace” Line
The resurgence of gunmen in murals is good for “dark tourism”. The concept was introduced in Visual History 10 and here we consider the so-called peace line separating loyalist and republican west Belfast. It marks historically the site of the 1969 riots and is a stark reminder of the Troubles and of the current imperfect peace. Tourists visiting the wall are encouraged to write a “message of peace” on it and this did not change when (perhaps partly in response to the tourism) it started to be covered in art, both state-sponsored pieces (see this article for three 2009 pieces) and street art, especially wild-style writing by writers from around the globe (images from 2008 show it with only the occasional piece of local graffiti). As a result, the wall in the 2010s is covered in art and the art is covered in black marker, despite signs asking visitors to “Please respect artwork“. The messages are perceived by locals as patronising and indicate a simple-minded understanding of the situation by tourists. The following images are sequential, from east (Divis) to west (Springfield Road). (More street art is considered separately below.)
“Irish forget the past” from a Continental visitor prompts the reply “Da war is not over yet”. This is the furthest east portion of the wall, next to the motorway, in Townsend Street.
One of the re-imaging pieces from a 2010 youth project ‘Changing Faces’: “Times change, opinions soften and people can begin to build a changing face.”
(2014 dating to 2010 X01690)
Wild-style writing by RASK (from Drogheda) on the Cupar Way portion of the wall.
A combination of street art and wild-style by members of the TMN crew (Belfast) shows Punisher executing Captain America on the Cupar Way “peace” line. Although the characters are fictional, the depiction of execution will resonate with many. The choice of image is perhaps unintentional but even so it illustrates the human fascination with violence and (self-) righteous anger.
This amnesic message of love and togetherness towards the western end of the wall unusually takes the form of a piece of street art. The (unknown) artist was realistic enough to draw a security camera in the top left corner, keeping a eye on the people with peace and love balloons. As everywhere along the Cupar Way portion of the line, the piece is covered in tourists’ signatures.
We include here only a few additional pieces of street art.
The side of Vogue hairdressers has had graffiti art (usually by TMN’s AKEN, with others from the crew) since 2008. Here is eagle painted in 2010. The post office staging box has a “political status now” poster on it. The location is at the easternmost edge of Andersonstown, near the old RUC barracks.
Writing by ANCO and CASP, two members of TMN, in (CNR) Beechmount.(2016 X03558)
And this is their piece in the (CNR) lower Falls:
(2016 X03571 – replaced in 2018 by a Saoradh mural in support of Palestine)
emic’s piece “35” which is on the main Newtownards Road (PUL east Belfast).
Chuck D is cited on the Lisburn Road. There is very little University-area graffiti or socio-political art.
(2013 dating to 2012 X01344)
Upstairs in the Dark Horse courtyard (city centre) which is now completely covered with art.(2015 X02509)
Finally, we turn to political commentary by street artists. Street art has not moved into the communities but politics can at least move into the city, though it must be presented in a somewhat light fashion.
The most trenchant political commentary has come from TLO (Three Letter Organisation). Here is TLO’s take on the use of tyres in pyres, which is not allowed for bonfires receiving funds from the Bonfire Management Programme:
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