A recent, albeit temporary, face lift for the Free Derry Wall has ignited some controversy, with some calling for the monument to be left unchanged in future.
The Wall, a usually sombre white with black lettering, was transformed last Friday by a group of internationally reknowned graffiti artists, Pablo Cristi, Sidd Joag, Program Coordinator, Ernel Martinez and ‘Man One.’
The re-imagining was done in conjunction with The Playhouse What If? Project and ICAN International Culture Arts Network projects, which are currently delivering an Urban Arts programme throughout Derry and Donegal. The Free Derry Wall mural is to highlight that programme and is the first of five Derry murals to be produced.
The international artists were invited to depict their idea of freedom and civil rights on the iconic Free Derry Corner in conjunction with the Gasyard Feile. The mural and graffiti art will remain for a two-week period.
However in only the first of those two weeks the mural has triggered a small online petition calling for the Wall to be left in its normal sombre state in future.
A debate those at The Playhouse are please about .
Elaine Forde of the ICAN project said: “This is a really healthy conversation. The fact that people are talking about Free Derry Corner and public art is really important, I think the debate about public art and public monuments is healthy and quite exciting.
“The Free Derry Corner has been a great location to showcase the work. It is a national monument and we applied public art to it and in doing so we caused a large scale, healthy public debate about art and it’s position in the community.”
The ICAN project is charged with bringing international artists to Derry and with them new and fresh ideas. They have been invited to teach young artists new ideas, approaches and methodologies.
“It is,” said Elaine, “an interesting process. We can enable young people to use their art, through the medium of grafitti in this instance, as a tool of social change. Graffiti isn’t vandalism when consent is secured.”
Free Derry Corner was listed in a BBC History Magazine article in which 100 of the UK’s most noted historians were asked to nominate a site they believe to be the most important in shaping history.
Free Derry Corner was nominated by Claire Fitzpatrick, history lecturer at Plymouth University.
She says the gable end “stands witness to the long shadow of the wars of religion.”
“In a place like Northern Ireland which is big on commemoration, it was symbolic to write on that Free Derry wall.
The inspiration for the world famous slogan originally came from a wall painted as part of the free speech campaign during a civil rights sit-in at Berkeley, California, in the early 1960s which stated: ‘You Are Now Entering Free Berkeley’.
The theme of the newly painted wall is nebula, the Latin for ‘cloud’ which according to Ms. Forde: “contextualizes the Free Derry wall and the decades’ long struggle for civil rights it represents in terms of universality, interconnectedness and re-creation.
The intention behind adding this imagery and colour to the wall is to encourage the young people of Derry to reimagine their history and present in broader, less limited terms; to take ownership over their public space; and to be the architects of a constructive future empowered rather than debilitated by the legacy of conflict and reconciliation.”
Four more murals by ICAN will be unveiled this week.