The Bogside Artists, Tom Kelly, William Kelly and Kevin Hasson, are world famous for the twelve large-scale murals they painted in Derry/Londonderry, collectively called The People’s Gallery. In the late 1960’s Derry’s Bogside neighbourhood was a centre of civil rights protests against the marginalisation of Catholics in terms of votes, jobs and housing. In consequence, the neighbourhood suffered some of the worst incidents of The Troubles, including ‘Bloody Sunday,’ the fatal day on which, within the space of one hour, 14 unarmed civil rights marchers were shot dead by British paratroopers, leaving the community in shock, disbelief and anger. The murals depict key events of the Troubles as they affected local residents, not least the deaths of many children.
Although the artists do not flinch from painting the events as they happened on their doorsteps, the murals are non-sectarian and anti-violence. Instead, they provide visual talking points for a wounded community to tell its story and process painful memories that are still very much alive with them. They are also non-parochial in that they tell a universal human story of oppression and protest that resonates with many in similar situations across the world.
The artist have been involved in reconciliation work since the early 80’s, building bridges between Catholic and Protestant communities driven apart by decades of conflict and violence. Tom Kelly leads a small independent house church called Wellspring that draws on early Celtic sources of Christianity, such as St. Columba, Derry’s patron saint and founder of Iona.
The artists have exhibited and talked about their work around the world, including at New York’s Irish Arts Centre, the Boston State House, The Perth International Fringe Festival, Villanova University, Frankfurt’s Kunstmuseum, the Smithsonian Festival in Washington and the Dafen Museum in Shenzen, China. In 2012 they painted a mural for the European City of Culture, Manibor, (Maribor) Slovenia, in support of Tibet that was unveiled by the Dalai Lama.
The murals need ongoing maintenance as they are continuously exposed to wind and rain. Despite their wide acclaim abroad, however, the artists have not been able to secure any public funding for their upkeep and rely entirely on the support of local residents. With governments in Stormont and Westminster both keen to ‘put the past behind’ them and re-brand Northern Ireland as a ‘normal,’ forward looking society, these stark images of the past are unwelcome reminders of past violence – from whatever side – and as yet unresolved issues and pain. Greenbelt is honoured and delighted to have the Bogside Artists exhibit and speak at this year’s Festival. It will only be the second time that the artists have shown and talked about their work in the UK outside Derry.
The artists take along a travelling exhibition containing large-scale reproductions of their murals, alongside rare photos of Derry during The Troubles. They will be around for the whole weekend to talk to people in the Art and Reconciliation Tent that they will share with Corrymeela.
William Kelly studied art in Belfast Art College in 1970 and went on to take an honors degree in painting at the National College of Art and Design, Dublin in 1977. His tutor was the American Charlie Brady, a close friend of Jackson Pollock. He has had fourteen one-man shows throughout Ireland. He has lived in Australia for twelve years and is also a writer.
Tom Kelly is a trained mural painter who worked for the Orchard Gallery where he led cross community art workshops for local youth as a means of healing and reconciliation between Catholics and Protestants. He is also the leader of a small independent church called Wellspring. In his book Stand Up and Be Counted, former US presidential advisor Anthony Campolo devoted an entire chapter to Tom and his community work.
Kevin Hasson comes from a very talented family in both the pictorial arts and in music. His experiences at a young age in Calcutta as a member of The International Voluntary Service awakened his mind to the ubiquity of social injustice and its roots. He lived in Frankfurt for twelve years and has painted murals across Germany.
Quotes on the artists:
“Tom Kelly is a living embodiment of what it means to be a Christian living over society’s faultlines. That he was recently asked by a Protestant area of the city to paint three huge new murals over three paramilitary ones already there testifies to the quiet influence he is having in Derry. Tom is also an example of how one man can make a difference, how by using your God-given gifts for His glory you can help bring a spirit of reconciliation and peace into the midst of the most unsettled of situations or circumstances. It can be done.”
Anthony Campolo, sociologist, former spiritual advisor to Bill Clinton and former Greenbelt speaker, in Stand Up and Be Counted: How to Change the World for Good (1993).
“The murals expressed the fears and memories of the people and, in doing so, assisted them in their struggle for human and civil rights, for peace and justice.”
Eoin Murray, writer and human rights activist based in Gaza.
“These murals tell a story, make a political point or record events from recent local history. They are a powerful medium; they represent a genuine form of creative expression that has emerged from the community. The Bogside murals are splendid examples of original, popular and imaginative political art of the period and deservedly attract great interest from tourists and locals alike.”
Most Rev Dr Edward Daly, retired Bishop of Derry. (Rev. Daly is the priest with the white handkerchief in the centre of the ‘Bloody Sunday’ mural.)
Quotes on Bloody Sunday:
“What happened on Bloody Sunday strengthened the Provisional IRA, increased nationalist resentment and hostility towards the Army and exacerbated the violent conflict of the years that followed. Bloody Sunday was a tragedy for the bereaved and the wounded, and a catastrophe for the people of Northern Ireland.”
Lord Saville in his conclusions to the Bloody Sunday Inquiry (15 June, 2010).
“What happened on Bloody Sunday should never, ever have happened. The families of those who died should not have had to live with the pain and the hurt of that day and with a lifetime of loss.”
David Cameron in his statement following