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What's Happening
Mixing Bowl Holy Biscuit
Dear God...
“Hardly anyone can ever find God because God is right at the end of your mind after all the background thoughts are gone.”
Maisie Satchwell-Hust

Coventry Cathedral & 
The Bogside Artists

Exhibition
Our Project:

The initial idea of an exhibition featuring the murals by the Bogside Artists in Derry/Londonderry was formed in October 2014 when philosopher of art, Adrienne Chaplin, was invited by Contemporary Christianity to join Tom Kelly, one of the three Bogside Artists, for an evening event to address the question of ‘truth in art and religion.’ Contemporary Christianity is a an organisation addressing issues of faith and culture in Northern Ireland.

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The event took place at the Magee Campus of Ulster University in Derry/Londonderry and was attended by a mixed audience of people from Derry and Belfast, and also included an exhibition with work from students form Belfast’s College of Art. Following a talk by Adrienne, Tom addressed the question of truth in art and religion by explaining some of the background to the murals.

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The murals, called The People’s Gallery, can be found in the Rosville Street which runs through the centre of the Bogside. The murals tell the story of the Troubles as experienced by the people of the Bogside, starting with the early civil rights marches in 1968 in protest against the systemic discrimination of Catholics in terms of housing, voting and employment. Born and raised in Bogside the artists experienced all this first hand. All three lost family and friends. In addition to the civil rights marches, the murals depict the Battle of the Bogside, Derry born Bernadette Devlin, John Hume and Ivan Cooper, operation Motorman, and Bloody Sunday. The last mural in the street is a colourful peace mural, jointly designed by children from Catholic and Protestant schools, representing the hope following the Good Friday agreement in 1998.

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In contrast to many other murals in Northern Ireland, the murals by the Bogside Artists are not sectarian – they do not contain any slogans, nor do they reference Republican themes or Irish symbols. They do not only pay tribute to Catholic John Hume but also to Protestant Ivan Cooper, both of them key players in the non-violent campaign for democratic rights and peace. In short, the murals are about the struggle for human and civil rights for everyone, wherever in the world. 



 

People in Northern Ireland are often told to ‘move on’ and ‘draw a line under the past.’ Moreover, different political parties are constantly trying to re-write history to their own advantage. This has rendered many people on both sides not only without justice but also voiceless. In such a climate, public art can provide a space for traumatic experiences to be remembered without accusations of indulgence in past hurts or stirring up old tensions. In the absence of any process of truth recovery in Northern Ireland, the murals provide a space for open-ended conversation and commemoration without this being annexed for political ends.. When the artists are working on their scaffolding, local people often talk to them and share their stories. They sometimes refer to their scaffolding as their ‘confession box.’

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Many Protestants routinely ignore the murals or dismiss them as Republican propaganda. When listening to Tom Kelly talk about the deeper social and religious meanings behind The People’s Gallery, and about the role of faith in his own life, they are often surprised never having heard this before. They comment that they have gained a whole new perspective on the murals and a much deeper understanding not only of the murals themselves but of the issues and the community as a whole.

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The artists do not claim a monopoly on suffering. Nor are they afraid to condemn the violence and intimidation inflicted by their own community. Instead, they encourage everybody to listen to each others’ stories. They say: here is our story - where is yours?

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Following from the evening at the Magee Campus, Contemporary Christianity, in partnership with the Irish Churches Peace Project, went on to organise a further full day conference under the title ‘Art, Faith and Peace: the Bogside Artists’ Story Behind the Murals’ in April 2015. Held at a cross-community centre in the heart of the city, the day was supported by the bishops and religious leaders of the four main denominations – Catholic, Anglican, Methodist and Presbyterian. Like before, many of the attendees felt they had gained a whole new perspective on the murals and felt more open to listen to the story of the Troubles as told by the people of the Bogside. The day was filmed by DiverseCity Community.