Angry artists in Derry and Belfast have laid down their brushes in protest at the lack of masked heroes, violent clashes and hunger-striking prisoners to portray. The house-high murals traditionally reflect the years of struggle and turmoil that have afflicted the area.
However since the advent of peace and democratic accountability following the Good Friday agreement nearly ten years ago, many of the artists have had to find alternative employment. Some are now employed as house painters, with images of conflict being replaced by pots of magnolia and floral stencilling. One artist recounted how he tried to get a job as a designer with Clinton Cards; ‘but they said there was a limited market for birthday cards featuring masked youths throwing petrol bombs.’
The painters claim to be forgotten victims of a peaceful political solution to Northern Ireland’s problems. In Derry’s Bogside there are many murals depicting the horror of the massacre of unarmed civilians by British Paratroopers on Bloody Sunday. One muralist asked, ‘where will the future inspiration for artists come from? Quite frankly the image of Ian Paisley and Gerry Adams sharing a joke and a chocolate digestive does nothing to inspire.’
In the Loyalist area of Shankill artists were equally despondent claiming that the heart of the problem is the lack of training opportunities for the next generation. With young kids not wanting to get involved, one unnamed man said, ‘if they can be bothered to use a brush or a can of paint it’s just to draw some nasty tag, a swear word or a cartoon cock.’
The mural painters are organising a march in the hope that it might provide some more inspiration. ‘What we need is for the protest to turn ugly, perhaps some unprovoked violence from the security forces and maybe a pointless death or two. We’re all keeping our fingers crossed.’