ILoveGraffiti had the pleasure to be involved in a historical paint event during easter 2009 in Belfast, Northern Ireland. A wall, much like the Berlin Wall and up for just as many years, got painted for the very first time in history, in the area of the city were the heaviest of the fighting took place over the years. ILG hooked up with Rask of the TDA Klann to tell us his story about this piece of history came about…
The Peace Line Wall – Belfast – Easter of 13th April 2009
Its long been a dream of mine to paint the peace line in Belfast, Northern Ireland. Particularly the one that seperates the Falls district from the Shankill districts. I grew up in Ireland during the height of the troubles, memories of the hunger strikes, random sectarian murders and bomb attacks are vivid memories for me and from an early age, I have been aware of the difference between “them” and “us”. Little did I think 20 years later I would be standing in the heart of the area were so much division and hatred was born painting a mural of peace.
This small area of Belfast has been a flashpoint for many years, in fact a very large majority of all the murders by paramilitary groups during the conflict took place within a 1 mile radius of the wall that we painted. The peace line as it was called was constructed at the height of the troubles, in sections it has gates which are closed at night effectively shutting off catholic areas from protestant ones. Even today as you look at the wall you can see whole streets were in effect halved by this wall, coming to an abrupt end where the wall towers towards the sky. In the past whole streets had been torched as a form of ethnic cleansing had taken place most notably Bombay street had been raized to the ground. On the protestant side many of the house just inside the peace line had been demolished due to constant attacks, on the catholic side I was amazed as I saw whole backgardens behind the wall enclosed in armoured fencing with childrens toys scattered underneath. This was a place of extreme division and hatred. The wall itself is a huge structure first a large section maybe 12 -14 feet high then large metal sheets and atop that more fencing. High enough to stop most missiles from being thrown over. The whole wall is peppered with AK rounds, Magnum rounds and scorch marks from many petrol bombs and other explosive devices.
My involvement with this project had began way back in 2004 when I was made aware of the sheer volume of wall available in and around this area. Belfast has a rich tradition of murals on both sides of the communities. They celebrate victories, losses , honour the dead, make martyrs of local people, highlight the social and political problems and issues of the community and are used as a constant platform to highlight issues that relate to the conflict and its 30 year history. I had been painting with Driser and his crew TDS from Belfast for many years, he was a Belfast protestant, I was a catholic from the border region (or bandit country as its known). In normal circumstances our paths would never cross in this divided country, but through our love for graffiti that made our background unimportant. We began travelling to each others areas to paint together and indeed getting to appreciate and know about each others heritage and culture and begin to understand both sides of the problem.
I had been organising the Bridge Jam in Drogheda, Ireland since 1994. This jam was set up on the Bridge of Peace, so named because this is where the first ever catholic versus protestant battle took place on July 12th 1690. My dream was to use this site as a place to bring talented individuals together through the common bond of writing graffiti regardless of colour, creed or ethnic difference and be a shining example to the people of the area, so I guess my work towards this project started even then. In the last few years we began bringing the visitors we had at the Bridge the short ride up to Belfast to paint that city also and this was only possible through the help and assistance of Dris, Tekor and Ciar of the TDS. These short trips only wet my appetite and made me think of bigger projects.
In 2004 we began discussing the possibility of working in the Shankill road area. I began a series of meetings with the loyalist ex prisoners. In effect the very people who would have been waging an armed campaign against my community during the troubles. I was initially very apprehensive on meeting these guys, however I realised that they were at the very heart of the change. They had spent many years in prison for paramilitary involvement and due to the peace process had returned to the community. They commanded huge respect among their people and were seen in many cases as defenders of the area and heroes. However they had learned in prison that there was a different way, that peace, not violence, was the way. That the murals were a valid part of the Belfast heritage but the images of guns, hatred and paramilitaries had to go. Of course some walls would stay honouring fallen comrades and the innocents but the hate must go.
The first wall we agreed to paint was just off the peace line in a quiet residential area populated by old and retired people. When we arrived the wall had a top to bottom Ulster Freedom Fighters C Company, a reference to mad dog Johnny Adair and his gang of thugs who claimed to be freedom fighters in this area but were nothing but thugs.
2 days later with hard work by myself, Driser, Tekor, Ciar, Sums, Insa, Solo One and Red, we had replaced this with Hidden Treasures, a wall celebrating Belfast and Northern Ireland culture without pinning it to 1 tradition. We featured natural geographic features like the giants causeway, and lesser known facts like the Delorean car featured in Back To The Future, which was built in Belfast , the ship Titanic again built in Belfast and images from Lion, Witch and the Wardrobe by CS Lewis who was born in Belfast, all placed on a treasure map with pieces scattered across it. Around the corner we did a large treasure chest with the kids names from the area coming from it and large simple letters Hidden Treasure. This wall stands still perfect to his day and I have been told is one of the favourite walls of the area by the local people.
This only wet my appetite even more, I knew these same people held the key to the peace line a wall over 1 kilometer long, just around the corner. We began talking and I know this would be a monumental project. The wall has thousands of names and messages along it, but no structure, no official sanctioned murals, just random messages and artwork. I knew we could have the wall, but I also knew we must make this project right to work for the community living in the shadow of the wall and also work for the visitors who view it and most important work for the peace this area needs and wants.
I had discussed this wall with several people and had become worried we may lose the opportunity to paint it, as other groups of artists (not writers) had expressed interest in using the wall. I knew that we would only get 1 shot to prove ourselves and then it would be gone for ever. I had several ideas, my biggest to approach all paint companies to send their best team out to paint this and put politics to the back for a minute, like the people of this area were trying to do. I began to realise the only way to do this was to make it happen myself and then work from there so that’s where Im at right now.
I had been involved with organising the writers for the All City Jam in Dublin and so I began thinking about combining the 2. I would have several visitors available and all the top irish gyus available in one swoop. So again I turned to Driser and the ex prisoners in the Shankill area. First we got the permission without which it would have been impossible to do. These guys ensure our safety and represent all the people of the area. Then we agreed a politically correct theme and began priming the wall preparing for the visit. Our first estimate were wrong and we ended up priming even more when our guys finally all arrived.
We grew to a group of 19 guys assembled from New york, Australia, Germany, Denmark, North and South of Ireland and the United Kingdom. We began painting the wall on the Sunday night after arriving in Belfast about 7.30 pm, getting up first outlines and planning the concepts. We returned to the wall before 8 am the Monday morning and by 7.30 pm we were getting photos and packing up to go home to our homes across the globe after a job well done.
It was an amazing experience, well over a hundred tourists passed by that day in Belfasts fleet of black taxis, intending to visit the deserted wall, but amazed to find us working on our huge mural. Many locals drove by, honking their horns and waving in approval and one group passed us out a case of beer in thanks for brightening up their drab surrounds.
By the end of it all, I was running on empty, drained from all the organising and painting and travelling but I felt good. I knew we had done something good, something powerfull, we had added a splash of multicolour love and peace to an area devoid of these things. I had brought together a group of people from across the globe for one special day to do something huge, bigger than graffiti, to leave a mark in the community long after the wall comes down, which will happen one day. I thank each and every one of the artists for their contribution, for coming out bringing their own paint and making the impossible happen. I look forward to the future to making this the biggest piece of graffiti in Europe! I look forward to using our artform to change the world piece by piece…
Peace and Love
Rask TDA Klann
Thanks to Ciar, Ren, Solo one, Lovepusher, Maser, Sek2, Dusto, Tiws , Tkid170, Kacao77, Ces, Dris, Dex, Jano, Sums, Kube, Omin, Rolk for painting the wall. Thanks to Plum and Epic for letting us make it happen, thanks to the people of the Shankill for all the horn honking and the beers, thanks to everyone that was involved in any way, thanks to Dris the main man in Belfast for the ladders, the priming the all round support, together we can make anything happen!!