I will be typing up the transcripts in time- You'll have to excuse the delay, but Derry's Tower Museum was calling me (their exhibition on the history of Derry was fantastic, well detailed and very beautifully presented) as have been a few wanderings down through the Bogside to examine the world famous 'People's Gallery'- and this brings me to my first meeting.
On Tuesday afternoon I sat down for a coffee with Tom Kelly, one of the famed Bogside Artists. I had contacted his brother Will by email, who was going to be, amusingly, in Australia while I was here, but he kindly put me in touch with Tom, and how glad I am that he did. What an inspiring, impressive man. He spoke with such gentle passion about his city and its people, about art and religion, that I could have listened to him for days. Tom amusingly listed his two co-artists as 'the academic and the historian', suggesting he was just 'passing through'- That may be, but if so- what a path he's taken! Tom spoke about approaching the memory of the conflict from a non-political, artistic background and explained the independence of the People's Gallery- and it really is just that, the murals are painted with complete consent of the local community and building owners. It is the artists way of presenting the communities story, done so by people from the community who knew their subjects.
"Before painting we make sure who is being painted gives permission, we visit the family, we then speak to the community. We also address everyone in the building. If someone doesn't agree, we don't paint. We wanted to be a voice for the community" - Tom Kelly
Tom told me stories that almost made me weep- real experiences of an amazing and meaningful life. He broke down several of the murals for me as only an artist could- not only is he gifted, he has a true understanding of conceptualising history.
After all this time, the murals remain the big drawcard to Derry and the artists receive little to no funding. They do it out of pride, passion and a sense of community. Their art remains 100% their own vision, without a political agenda or outside influences. Tom told me there were some people who felt the murals should go as the peace process progresses. He must have seen my look of horror, because he shook his head.
"If that's true, Rebekah, if its about moving on, then Trafalgar Square should go, every war memorial should go. This is our history, it is there to edify the community."- Tom Kelly
And he's right. It's vital that these murals remain and are cared for in the original visions of the artists.
As Tom and I walked down to his car (he having kindly agreed to have his photo taken with me in front of one of the amazing murals), he pointed out that the last mural in the Bogside is about peace, and that many of the murals focus on children. It's something I've heard again and again from the people I've spoken to here- that the real key to moving on is getting through to the young. That too easily they can be swept up into hate. The murals, Tom told me, are about asking the youth not to be manipulated.
"The thing is Rebekah, the kids get caught up in the hate, they hear the stories of the old men in the pubs. But our cemeteries are full of young men and women... and the old men are still in the pubs." -Tom Kelly