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the artists' statement

Three individuals make up the group known as 'The Bogside Artists' - Tom Kelly, Kevin Masson and William Kelly. Williamís son Paul takes care of video and documentation. The group is famous for their murals in the area of Derry, Northern Ireland, known as Free Derry Corner. These murals depict key events of 'the Troubles' in the city since 1968. The artists have lived in the Bogside most of their lives and have experienced the worst of the conflict. This exhibition of their work is a chronicle of those events that they consider to have been the most significant during the last thirty years. In telling this story they have served a pressing need for their community and Derry people in general to acknowledge with dignity if not pride the price paid by those who became victims of the struggle for democratic rights. Their work therefore is essentially a homage.

As Peter Sheehan, the Vice-Chancellor of the Australian Catholic University in Sydney, so aptly expressed it in his introduction to their recent exhibition: "The scale of the daily violence experienced by the people of the North of Ireland is not to be assessed just in terms of fatalities and the physical and emotional results of the violence. There is a deeper spiritual dimension that is communicated. I find myself responding most to the overpowering message of the murals: This is our story, where is yours?"

The artists are pledged to continue to express this spiritual dimension on the gable walls of the Bogside. Although they are aware of the parochial nature of the images, they also understand the universal aspect of the conflict. What has happened in Northern Ireland and what has been experienced by the people of Derry is by no means peculiar to either Derry or Northern Ireland.

What confers a unique provenance on our work is the fact that we, both as artists and as citizens, are part of the story we feel obligated to tell. The story of the Bogside is our story and vice versa. Hence our sympathies are with all of the people who have suffered in Northern Ireland whatever their class, creed, politics or belief systems. We believe that only when both communities of Catholics and Protestants have confronted the wounds they have inflicted on each other, and on themselves, can there be the possibility of healing or forgiveness.

To tell it like it is and was is vital to this catharsis. Our murals stand therefore as the not too silent witnesses to the colossal price paid in suffering and brutalisation by a hopelessly innocent people in their struggle for basic human rights. The institutionalisation of sectarian exclusivity is the very essence of the conflict. It is a crime against both Catholics and Protestants. Our fervent wish is that the peace process will give us time to put right what has been so drastically put wrong. To this end we devote our craft and our energy, our imagination, our story and our hope.


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