Category Archives: murals

Photo diary: murals in Derry and Belfast

This weekend, I was on assignment in Derry-Londonderry, UK City of Culture 2013. I’ll write about the gallery going elsewhere, and for the time being post a few photos of politically charged street art.

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Above is a mural on the wall of the Museum of Free Derry. Behind the subject and the illustrated bullet holes you can see a real rifle shot taken by the wall at the time of Bloody Sunday.

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It’s not a strand of history they taught at my secondary school, but between 1969 and 1972 the Catholic inhabitants of Bogside established themselves as a state within a state.

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This was Ireland’s taste of the times that were a-changing, a militant civil rights movement which drew inspiration from the Prague Spring and the steps made towards racial equality by Martin Luther King.


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But on 30 January1972, British paratroopers opened fire on a civil rights March killing 13 people. This mural is based on the iconic photo of Father Edward Daly waving a blood stained white handkerchief.

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Ultimately, the Bogside residents’ rent strike, rates strike and general insurrection proved too much for the government. Tanks were sent to clear the barricades and this mural depicts that operation.

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To the local community and with varying degrees of optimism, Free Derry was a place in time on a par with Cuba after the revolution or Palestine as is today. (Che could have played football for Eire.)

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Here you can see a rendering of Guernica on the wall of the Museum of Free Derry. Staffed by relatives of victims of the conflict, this great little museum is soon to be expanded.

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Pictured above, and 60 miles away in Belfast, Picasso’s masterpiece gets a more faithful tribute, except this time with the inclusion of an inset featuring Hugo Chavez.

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This was also on the Falls Road, an image of Ciaran Nugent, first political prisoner to go on a blanket protest against the implications of a prison uniform.

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You can see Belfast is a bit more confrontational than Derry. The mural on the right carries an ad for the West Belfast Taxi Association, which has roots in the Catholic community.

But the cab which took me round the mean streets of Belfast was not WBTA. This may or may not have provoked our snowball attacks by local kids. No harm done.

I don’t want to give the impression that Nationalist murals are the only show in town. There are plenty of blogworthy paintings by Unionists. I just didn’t get the pictures.

It was a fantastic weekend, and I can only end on a positive note. Below is a mural of Belfast pub life in a courtyard across from the Duke of York. Do raise a glass to the future of both cities.

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Cindy Sherman at Sprüth Magers

If you were to purchase work from Cindy Sherman‘s new show, someone would apparently come to your home and fit the piece to your room. Her photographic prints fill the whole wall.

They are, in other words, wallpaper and their decorative potential is exaggerated by toile patterning in the background. This puts one in mind of elegant French upholstery or ceramics and I’m told the stuff is like catnip to women of a certain age and social bracket.

So far, so tasteful, but then come giant colour photographs of the artist dressed in a range of outré costumes. We have a circus performer, a seeming inhabitant of Middle Earth, a woman in a nude-woman body suit, and five more who are no less strange for being relatively mundane.

You could hardly say these figures blend in, although there is a ninth incarnation of Sherman who does just that. This one floats gaily through the landscape, rendered in toile-esque black and white.

She looks as if she would be very much at home in someone’s nice home. And by contrast the others look like they come from another planet. It would be like having a permanent stranger in the room.

So despite their resemblance to interior design, these murals do seem emphatic that Sherman’s art is no mere decoration. And its relationship with fashion, while indisputable, is filled with unease.

There’s a great interview with Cindy Sherman in today’s Guardian and a brief but illuminating Q&A with gallery director Andreas Gegner at Dazed Digital.

Show runs until 19 February. See gallery website for more details.