Updating muralism in Derry

Pictured are Ernel Martinez, Pable Christi, ??? Karl Porter, Man One, Ray Bonner, Sidd Joag and Sean Cavin of What If.
Pictured are Ernel Martinez, Pable Christi, ??? Karl Porter, Man One, Ray Bonner, Sidd Joag and Sean Cavin of What If.

The Free Derry Wall is to receive a contemporary make over today as some of the leading graffiti artists in the world will help local artists repaint it.

The International Culture Arts Network (ICAN) and What IF? Project at The Playhouse have invited four leading practitioners of graffiti art and ‘muralism’ to Derry. The artists will offer local young people a chance to benefit from their expertise in master classes. The four muralists, Pablo Cristi, Ernel Martinez, Man One and Sidd Joag will work with young people living in Derry’s interface communities and the Family Resource Centre, Moville. The project will run for three weeks in August and will produce a number of murals in Dove House, Irish Street, Moville and one in the city centre.

Elaine Forde of Ican said; “In essence the project is about using graffiti as a mechanism for social change and providing young people with an artistic outlet during the summer. The young people will be encouraged to highlight issues that are important to them using graffiti.

“I had to facilitate an education about art within disenfranchised communities. To address that we target the young people within those communities.”

Speaking from his own experience, Man One said: “Graffiti opened my mind on how to apply art. I never thought I could get a career out of it.”

Man One is an internationally known film set designer, he has had work commissioned by MTV, Coca-Cola, Adidas, Sony and Ubisoft among others.

“The mural scene is massive at the moment and while the spray can has rebellious connotations, I’ve had police guns pointed at my head, it is an art form. Properly channelled young people can have an introduction to the arts and perhaps a career in it.”

Asked for their perspective on Derry’s ‘Muralism,’ Sidd Jagos of the Creative Resistance Fund said of his first impression when visiting the local murals: “I wondered if in the present time such direct portrayals of confrontation between the state and civilians is actually productive to the peace process. I actually think they are more monuments to history. In my opinion graffiti is more fleeting an art form, I think graffiti and murals should provide a spark to the consciousness, they should, while being aesthetically pleasing, fall into the normal cycle of life which means they can be painted over.

“I think a more clever use of style, craft, form, placement not to mention colour and composition could say a lot more, about and to a community, in terms of where it is today.”

Man One, also known as Alex said: “In LA murals define a community and if the community feels they don’t represent those living close by, they are defaced. I noticed none of the murals we saw last night were defaced. It would seem that the community has taken ownership of them.

“The murals we are creating will be done so after a number of collaborative workshops.”

Belize born Ernel Martinez lives in Philadelphia and said: “There are 2000 murals in Philly but they are much more subtle when they speak for and to the disenfranchised. That said I can see clear parallels between both muralism traditions. That is, murals define an area or neighbourhood here as they do in the US. They both have that reflective quality of what is going on in a community.”

Those parallels are even stronger when comparisons are made between the murals of Ireland and Chile. Pablo Cristi was born in Chile and said: “Chilean murals are overtly political, that experience led me to be very political when working.

“In Chile political beliefs are strong and painted on the walls as norm. People are willing to take the fight to the streets with sticks and stones but in the US that is just not the case. It is obviously a very different culture.”

Ernel Martinez said: “In cities like Philly the murals are not political. There just isn’t the opportunity to make the strong political statements in the US as you can here.”

Speaking about how he got into the art form he said: “I needed to find a legal way of persuing art as a career and well, avoid getting arrested.

“Graffiti all relates to the hip hop culture. It is a visual art and it’s amazing how young people are basically the same no matter where I go.”

Pablo Cristi added graffiti art; “Basically saved my life. There is no doubt about that, it helped me stay away from the gang culture and my experiences when painting murals and graffiti allowed me to meet people who were doing the same but yeah, I needed a legal side to my life also.”

Pablo said: “Walls are territory so the gangs hated us as well. I’ve dodged many bullets.

“It was when I studied the tradition of muralism that I saw and read about political art in Northern Ireland. I was only too aware that painting was a way of staying alive for me. We became a collection of like minds staying away from gang life. Young people have developed a language, a very self expressive language based on letters. It is a language that speaks to them and provides a positive creative outlet. Facilitating that among any young group is a positive thing. It is an honour for me to be in Derry to participate in the project.”

If you want to participate in this project or gain and further information contact Elaine Forde ICAN Coordinator by calling the Playhouse on T, 02871 268027 or elaine@derryplayhouse.co.uk