Details Of Sectarian Murals, 1997-99

£30.00

  • Edition of 500
  • 96 pages / 53 colour plates
  • Hardback
  • 8.5 x 10.9 in / 21.5 x 27.6 cm
  • Text by Sarah Allen
  • Design: Scott King & Tom Etherington
  • ISBN: 978-1-7395964-3-9
  • Printed by Graphius, Ghent
  • Shipping / £5 UK / £12.50 Europe / £20 Worldwide
  • Shipped signed & tracked
  • Signed by the artist

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Press Release:

Sorika is pleased to announce a new book, Details of Sectarian Murals by the photographer Gareth McConnell. McConnell was born in 1972 in Northern Ireland (1) and grew up during the Troubles. His new book of photographs (taken in 1997-1999) gives a fanatical attention to Republican and Loyalist sectarian murals in Northern Ireland. The detailed focus of McConnell’s close up photography is so concentrated – only a few square inches of each mural is seen – that the original meaning context of the murals, including their Tricolours, Union Jacks, guns, and signage texts, is lost, completely silencing their strident messaging.

Sectarian murals in Northern Ireland mark territories, pronounce allegiances, celebrate victories, intimidate enemies, define ideologies, and vividly and proudly decorate the often grim pebbledash walls of impoverished urban landscapes (pebbledash being a class signifier). They are described by Sarah Allen, Head of Programme at the South London Gallery, who has written a text for the publication, as ‘By far the most distinctive displays of allegiance [ . . .] Often painted onto the gable end of houses, they are spectacular territorial indicators and boundary markers making plain the reality of segregation.’

The murals are a folk art in which traditional painterly craft values are used, without the overly self-conscious, self-awareness of fine art painting. They are an art form that exists somewhere on a continuum with graffiti, coats of arms, Victorian advertising, ice cream van signage, pub signs, and trade union banners. At another level, however, they are aggressive and hostile, and imply violent consequences to foes and ideological transgressors. Whatever the murals have been, are, or are becoming, tourists are now happy to take guided walking tours of them.

McConnell gives us his own guided tour of the murals, his photographs of them displacing their usual certainties, so as to make them remarkable abstractions – abstractions of vast mood. Applied onto the pebbledash or brick surfaces of terraced houses, the paint marks of gloss or industrial paint, once sticky and wet – complete with splatters and dribbles – now become, under McConnell’s gaze, like huge, melodious abstract expressionist paintings, or photographs taken as if by the Hubble or James Webb space telescopes. McConnell creates a cosmos of incomprehensibly large galaxies in collision, rather than adversarial sectarianism in collision. His micro details become of great macro proportions; a trippy, slightly stoned cosmos of beauty and enormity – of wild, formative, creation and destruction.

1. Northern Ireland is the official name of the region. However there are several other names for the region which reflect differences in political views. These include, but are not limited to: The North of Ireland, The Six Counties, The Province, and Ulster.

Details of Sectarian Murals includes an essay by Sarah Allen, Head of Programme at the South London Gallery. An excerpt from the text can be read below.

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Details of Sectarian Murals:
Abstraction as Survival Strategy and Utopic Appeal

Dark Days

Orange and Green, lost in a mix of white, purple, black, blue, and red – colliding brushstrokes that amass to form a larger picture lying beyond the frame. During the Troubles, and still today, the streets of Northern Ireland are a canvas onto which allegiances are projected. The Republic of Ireland’s tricolour and the Union Jack are ubiquitous. Never confined to flagpoles alone, the colours of these flags extend to the urban fabric of the city – to street kerbs, lampposts, and roundabouts. By far the most distinctive displays of allegiance are the murals. Often painted onto the gable end of houses, they are spectacular territorial indicators and boundary markers making plain the reality of segregation.

Murals originally appeared in the early 20th century as part of an assertion of Protestant people’s sense of British identity. However, the practice of mural painting was stifled within the Catholic community. In the 1960s this was challenged by the Northern Irish Civil Rights Movement. The civil rights campaign was centred on securing equal access to housing and employment for the Catholic community, but other activities in the public domain such as parades and mural painting were also a focus.[i] Irish Republican wall-paintings began to emerge in the late 1970s both as a vehicle to express identity and a means of consolidating support. The mainstream media also censored elements of Republican ideology, murals therefore became a method of expressing Republican goals to an international media where cameras were rolling, reporting on the conflict.

An Illusion

So, what might it mean to abstract these murals, to wrest them from their reality within the brick and mortar of the city? It purges the weight of context from the image, strips away the symbolism, and neutralises the rallying call imbedded within the murals. It also subverts the polarising ideology at the very heart of the murals. It is a radical act of decontextualisation rendering it impossible to situate the mural on one side of the sectarian divide or the other. That the Red Hand Commando is reduced to a swirl of red paint and an image of a Republican prisoner of war becomes flecks of black pigment is a wholesale rejection of a culture of binaries – Catholic/Protestant, Nationalist/Loyalist. The urge to decontextualise may also be born out of a weariness with this very act of categorisation that becomes almost involuntary for many people living in Northern Ireland. That process to identify friend or foe, insider or outsider – what Irish poet and playwright Seamus Heaney once described as:

…Manoeuvrings to find out name and school,
Subtle discrimination by addresses
With hardly an exception to the rule

That Norman, Ken and Sidney signalled Prod
And Seamus (call me Sean) was sure-fire Pape.
O land of password, handgrip, wink and nod,
Of open minds as open as a trap…[ii]

[i] Neil Jarman, “Painting Landscapes: the place of murals in the symbolic construction of urban space”, in Anthony Buckley (ed), Symbols in Northern Ireland, https://cain.ulster.ac.uk/bibdbs/murals/jarman.htm accessed on 1.5.23.

[ii] Seamus Heaney, North, Faber and Faber, 1975, unpaginated.

 

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