Cambridge exhibition by Bogside artists marks half a century since Bloody Sunday
An exhibition of murals from the Bogside area of Derry/Londonderry, Northern Ireland, opens at St Paul’s Church on Hills Road in Cambridge this Sunday (January 30) – 50 years to the day since Bloody Sunday in 1972 .
The exhibition, “Art, Conflict and Remembrance: The Murals of Bogside Artists”, features 12 murals painted on the gable walls of a series of apartments in the Bogside area between 1994 and 2006, depicting scenes such as Bloody Sunday, The Hunger Strikes and the death of many children – including family and friends of the artists – by Tom Kelly, his late brother William Kelly and his lifelong friend Kevin Hasson.
Together they are known as the Bogside Artists, and the murals – now a major tourist attraction – tell the story of the Troubles as experienced by them and their community. Some of these powerful works are immediately familiar after being reproduced and exhibited around the world.
The three men grew up in the Bogside and Creggan during the darkest years of the conflict and, like most people of that era, witnessed many horrific events, particularly in the 1970s. Kevin Hasson was even there on day of the Bloody Sunday massacre – he was 14 at the time.
Tom Kelly, who was around 13 at the time, was forced to stay home “under a sort of house arrest” on that fateful day by his father who had a feeling something might happen. Tom, who reveals that for children at that time “riots and marches were almost like our form of entertainment”, will speak at several events on Saturday 12 and Sunday 13 February in St Paul.
On Saturday evening there will also be a screening of the documentary film Bogside History featuring the artists and Italian photojournalist Fulvio Grimaldi, an eyewitness to the events that unfolded on Bloody Sunday.
Tom says: “We all tended to paint and draw and we were all born here in the middle of the Bogside – and we all grew up seeing things children should never see… We got together in 1994 and formed this group, the Bogside Artists, just to try to document the experiences we had already had.
He continues: “With a lot of discussion between the three of us, we knew what we wanted to do. We wanted to do something really unique as most of the murals in Northern Ireland tend to be of a side or the other – kind of a “them and us” thing – and they tend to be very propagandistic, and the actual render and the actual painting and design doesn’t really come into play in a lot of ways .
“As artists, we really wanted to paint an outdoor art gallery for our own community in the Bogside, which is synonymous with conflict here. This was the scene of Bloody Sunday, this is more or less where the conflict started in 1969 with the Battle of the Bogside, and of course John Hume [a recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize]who announced from the Bogside, was the architect of the Good Friday Agreement.
“So we wanted to paint the key events that affected our community – but what we weren’t going to do was paint the usual shots of gunmen shooting at coffins and large insignia and names of organizations, a phoenix rising from the ashes and all that nonsense.
“It wouldn’t shy away from painting and showing our experience, but at the same time it would be done in such a way that it would be a cathartic experience for the whole community, as well as for us artists. All three of us have lost family members in the conflict, so we have been personally affected in many ways.
Tom says there is a Christian message behind the 12 murals, encouraging people to “look and examine and see what people are doing to others and what they would do in return”. He recalls that each member of the trio would play a key role at every stage of the process.
“Basically, we were perfectly aware that egomania was rampant in the art world,” recalls Tom, who notes that not everyone appreciated their efforts (“We were all sentenced to be executed at some point donated by a loyalist paramilitary group”).
“So we decided that if we were happy with the design – which we would do together – we would then consult with the people directly adjacent to the wall where the painting would continue, and unless they gave their consent the mural would not be not happen.
“Second, we went to the wider community and got almost 3,000 signatures which then went to the local housing authority because they owned the buildings – and we got their consent as well. We were working so with the community, but the art itself was purely the design of the Bogside artists and it was agreed between the three of us.
On how they worked together during the making of the painting, Tom reflects: “Let’s say that if I did a portrait and then bit myself for a coffee or to go to the bathroom, then it was understood that by the time I was coming back, that the portrait is perhaps finished…
“It was like that with the 12 – the three of us worked on each mural and we just worked from early morning until the light faded and we stayed with it until it was finished. We knew the creative process was probably as important as the finished product.
Tom concludes: “We are not artists because of what we do, it’s because of who we are.
Bloody Sunday (January 30, 1972) was the day 13 unarmed civil rights protesters were killed by British paratroopers in the Bogside. The brutal attack and subsequent cover-up of the soldiers’ actions marked a major turning point in the history of The Troubles.
As Lord Saville concluded in his 2010 Bloody Sunday Inquiry Report, this ended peaceful protests and radicalized many young people into joining the Provisional IRA. The Saville Report prompted then-Prime Minister David Cameron to issue a formal apology.
The exhibition, curated by Adrienne Chaplin, includes reproductions of the murals alongside historical photographs and audiovisual material to place them in their larger social and political context. It can be seen at St Paul’s Church, Hills Road in Cambridge and lasts from January 30 to February 20. Opening hours are Monday to Saturday: 12:30 p.m. to 5 p.m., Sunday: 2 p.m. to 5 p.m.
Tom will intervene on Saturday February 12, at 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m., after the film Bogside’s story, then again on Sunday February 13 at 2 p.m. and Monday February 14 at 2 p.m. The latter will focus on the role of art in the treatment of trauma, with excerpts from the play Anything Can Happen 1972: Voices from the Heart of Troubles written by Damian Gorman, in which Tom participates.
For more details, visit bogsideartistsexhibition.org.
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