“The Petrol Bomber” by The Bogside Artists in Derry, Northern Ireland

The Bogside Artists

Sometimes murals are purely artistic, other times they have more social content talking about historical and political happenings. It is the case of Bogside neighborhood in Derry, Northern Ireland, where 12 murals stand out showing the period known as “The Troubles”, one of the darkest moments of the conflict between Irish nationalists and unionists. In the 50’s a wave of change and demand of civil rights spread all over the world, also involving Ireland and establishing its roots in Derry. Two are the key events: the Battle of Bogside when, on January 1969, the words “You Are Now Entering Free Derry” appeared on a gable wall in this neighbourhood, barricades were erected and the Radio Free Derry began to broadcast, self-declaring autonomous nationalist area. The other occurrence was Bloody Sunday, happened on 30th January 1972, when unarmed demostrators were killed and 17 others injured by British paratroopers during a civil rights march. The subsequent inquiry largely cleared the soldiers and British authorities of blame, causing the reaction of the victims’ familiars who spent many years asking for a fresh public inquiry.

The 12 murals were realised by The Bogside Artists, a collective of local artists, Tom Kelly, his brother William and their friend Kevin Hasson, creating The People’s Gallery. One of the most powerful Derry murals is “The Petrol Bomber” that features a young boy who dresses a leather jacket with the Republican symbol and a gas mask to protect himself from the CS gas used by the (RUC) police force in Northern Ireland during those years. The kid holds a petrol bomb using a milk bottle while in the background we recognise some police officers and the flats of Rossville Street. The image is immersed into the smoke and it is painted with a grey palette recalling to the photograph of Paddy Coyle, Kelly’s cousin, used by them as reference. The mural was painted in 1994 for the 25th anniversary of the battle and it wants to affirm itself as a political statement. Those murals emerge as powerful reminders of poor social conditions, a lack democratic rights and economic opportunities, emphasising a reality not so far in the past, just looking at what happens nowdays in Chile.

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