Belfast is better known for its history than its pieces of art, but a new generation of artists are occupying the public spaces making their voices heard. For decades, the streets of Northern Ireland were showing murals related to the political situation, especially featuring the region’s religious divisions. During the Trouble, the streets were the perfect media to campain, so street art became an extraordinary political weapon. In the last years, a new wave of street art is emerging in some of the most difficult and decayed areas of the city showing contents of the past and present, but also with a purely ornamental role. In particular, by focusing on the Cathedral Quarter we can come across over 100 murals within very short walking distance that features this new creative flow. In Gresham street, we bump into a mural that depicts the old Smithfield Market, showing a place that it’s part of Belfast history. Opened to the public around 1770 – 1780, Smithfield Market became the focus of popular culture throughout the 19th century, attracting the crowd with its shops and stalls. On the other hand, Smithfield Market had a bad reputation due to the location of Marshalsea Prison on the square, as one contemporary noted:
“We penetrated into Smithfield court, which is not unworthy of the patronymic. This is, as we learned on the spot, the battle ground of the whole neighbourhood; and wrathful pugilists resort thither, even from the most distant parts of the town, to settle their disputes after their own fashion, undisturbed by impertinent policemen.”
Unfortunately, in 1974 the market was fire-bombed and it was quickly rebuilt with wood and permanently replaced in 1986. But, to many in the city, the soul of the market was gone: a certain part of the rough and ready exoticism of Belfast has been lost.
The mural in Gresham Street made by KVLR and JMK is able to immerse ourselves in the old market’s atmosphere. Suddenly we are in the crowd: dealers, auctioneers and producers of all kinds are selling their products. We behold, in the throng, people buying items, a farmer collecting fruits and a horse drinking from a trough. But, it is the gaze of an elderly woman, her blue eyes are the only touch of colour of the painting, that draws completely our attention.