The Bogside Artists have said they are delighted that specialist lighting is currently being installed to illuminate their murals along the People’s Gallery, as their work continues to garner interest across the world.
It is now almost 25 years since the Bogside Artists came into being, with their groundbreaking work continuing to this day with their current touring exhibition at cathedrals and arts centres across England opening at the Left Bank Leeds Art Centre today.
Meanwhile, back in Derry work is nearing completion to install lighting at the murals in the Bogside. The lighting has been imported from Paris and comes 13 years after the People’s Gallery was first identified and designated as a priority for the outdoor illumination infrastructure.
“It’s been a big year,” Tom Kelly said. “We are particularly delighted with the co-operation of the Housing Executive and Derry City & Strabane District Council to illuminate the People’s Gallery.
“All 12 murals are simply telling a story and to see it highlighted by the council reminds us of what an important feature has been created for the city and it continues to be one of the biggest boosts for tourism. Even though it’s been a hard fought battle we are delighted to see it is happening. ‘Better late than never’ is our motto. The feedback from the people in the Bogside in the main towards the lighting has been tremendous,” Tom said. “At the end of the day this is what matters and what has always mattered to us first and foremost the people of the community whose unswerving support is still there today.”
Some of the murals, the artists said, are badly in need of repair. “We are delighted with the lighting and we are looking forward to, hopefully the council and others, giving us the opportunity to restore them to their former glory to keep this important story alive and well.”
The Bogside Artists were founded by brothers Tom and William Kelly and Kevin Hasson back in 1994. Many thought that after the sudden death of William Kelly in January, 2017, the Bogside Artists may decide not to go on. Tom said, however, that after long deliberation between Kevin and himself they decided that they would continue on.
The Bogside Artists have dedicated the last 25 years to taking the story of Free Derry around the world and have toured all over Europe and the United States of America, with 2018 being no exception.
Tom Kelly: “The exhibition in England has been on a tour and that started off at St. Clement’s Church just off Tower Bridge [in London]. It ran in there for a few weeks and it went from there to Coventry Cathedral. It has gone really well and thousands have gone to see it. The feedback has been very encouraging and it has been very enlightening for the visitors. After Coventry it went to Norwich Cathedral and it is now going to be shown for a number of weeks in Leeds Arts Centre.”
This year they have also been across the Atlantic exhibiting in New Jersey, North Carolina and Alabama as well as San Diego, California in what they describe as a “pretty intensive tour” which honed in on the story of Free Derry, the Civil Rights era, the 35 years of conflict and the 12 murals of the People’s Gallery, which depict that story and which have become one of Ireland’s most iconic, visited and photographed landmarks.
Tom and Kevin said the historic aspects and the theme of reconciliation that run through their works has been very much appreciated by the growing number of people engaging with that work.
In August, Kevin Hasson travelled to the US to showcase their work at the Milwaukee Irish Festival, the biggest Irish Festival in the world.
“It was a great event with over 100,000 people,” Kevin said. “There was a lot of interest generated by our exhibition. I did a series of talks every day which were fairly well attended and one of the key moments was an actual debate which had the DUP’s Jim Shannon on the panel, who gave a unionist point of view on the murals and how they are perceived. It was a lively debate with him and others as well.”
It turned out Strangford MP, Mr Shannon, was very much aware of the artists’ work, including the work they had done alongside people from the Fountain Estate in Derry going back to the 1980s, which was unprecedented at the time and proved to be groundbreaking.
Alongside the international exhibitions, lectures and debates, a new one-hour film detailing the work of the artists, entitled ‘Bogside Story’ directed by Rocco Forte, Pietro Laino and produced by an Italian company premiered in Rome three weeks ago and has been extremely well received.
The film follows photographer Fulvio Grimaldi, the only Italian eyewitness to ‘Bloody Sunday,’ as he travels back to Derry and meets with the Bogside Artists. The film charts Grimaldi’s fascination with the communicative power of the murals. The film was shown in Florence recently and is going to tour Italy and film festivals throughout the world in the coming months.
Given their presence and reputation on the international stage, it was said a long time ago that the Bogside Artists were unpaid ambassadors for the city. “Next year is the 25th anniversary of the Bogside Artists and whether paid or unpaid the Bogside Artists will continue to restore the murals and exhibit our work and carry out other commissions for major public artworks round the world and forever carrying the story of the Bogside and its people,” they vowed, adding: “From away back in 1994 we had a vision to paint the entire length of Rossville Street with murals, well aware that this is a historic street in the context of the recent conflict. The people of the Bogside and others also were wise to realise the significance of the murals and what they were conveying, not only about the street but indeed the entire city.”
The artists added that it took the powers that be a long time to come to realise the significance and importance of it, with some quarters advocating a policy of trying to airbrush the ‘Troubles’ which have had such a massive impact on the city and its character when it came to promoting or profiling the city to potential visitors.
“It’s good to see they are finally coming around to supporting and recognising what we have always know,” they said, adding that they were aware there had been those in various political groups who have misrepresented or misused the murals.
“The fact is all our work is painted by the Bogside Artists which is an independent art group which have never marched to the beat of anyone’s drum,” Tom said.
“This is the story of the ordinary, every day people who endured so much for so long, and as far as ordinary people are concerned, and we include ourselves in that, have benefited economically so little.”
The artists said they were glad local taxi drivers, tour guides and B&Bs among others were tuned in to tracing the beginnings of real tourism in Derry back to the murals,
Next year will see the artists returning to the US with a new lecture and presentation series bound for Yale, Connecticut in March, 2019.
The artists have also had positive feedback over potentially appearing at the Edinburgh Festival and are looking forward to the exhibition in England continuing.
“As far as the Bogside Artists are concerned, the best is yet to come!” Tom concluded.