STREET art has long been a means of political and cultural expression in Derry and across the North of Ireland.
Republicans and loyalists painted murals on buildings and gable walls, as a way of marking out territory and memorialising those lost throughout the Troubles.
Many of those murals remain today, a constant reminder of a darker past.
But now, in the midst of the deadly Coronavirus pandemic, a new wave of artwork is emerging across Derry and other towns and cities in the North of Ireland and it has united local communities.
Street artists have turned their skills to paying a heartfelt thank you to the frontline workers battling against COVID-19 on a daily basis, putting their own lives at risk of catching the lethal virus which has claimed tens of thousands of lives across the world.
In Creggan, the mural at ‘Free Derry Corner’ has been updated to show local support for the frontline NHS workers battling to save lives of those who have contracted Coronavirus.
In the Waterside, three brothers have been hard at work transforming their area to honour healthcare staff.Mark, Peter and Dee Logan have painted NHS murals in Bond Street, Nelson Drive and Irish Street in the city.
Mark Logan, who has been involved in mural painting in the Waterside for more than 20 years, says this work is among the most important he has ever helped produce.
“It’s all about recognising the work of the NHS,” he said.
“It doesn’t matter what side of the community you’re from, everyone is behind you.”
The brothers hope their work will be seen by health workers, helping to spur them on and “get them through the day”.
“Doctors and nurses are understandably exhausted, and I truly believe some words of encouragement every now and again can go a long way,” he said.
“They say a picture paints a thousand words.
“We just hope the murals will give them that extra psychological boost to keep going.”
After the Good Friday Agreement was signed in April 1998, there was a major shift away from violence here towards politics.
That shift was also reflected on the walls, with traditionally sectarian murals slowly making way for work that was more reflective of a new mood, although a small minority in the city are still wedded to violence which resulted in the brutal murder in April last of author and journalist Lyra McKee in Creggan by the New IRA.Murals have sprouted up to recall the work of Derry’s ‘Factory Girls’, to honour the thousands of women across Derry who devoted their lives to producing garments in local factories.
Professor Peter Shirlow, head of Irish Studies at Liverpool University, said the appearance of the NHS murals marked an “important cultural moment” within Northern Irish society.
“Despite territorial or constitutional differences among people, it is very, very obvious that the NHS is a critically important institution for these communities,” he said.
Prof Shirlow questioned whether “murals of the past” traditionally depicting “hooded gunmen” that claimed to represent their communities actually did so and believes NHS murals are a more accurate representation of communities now and “everybody within them”.
He explained they were reflective of what was slowly occurring in the North of Ireland, with people “starting to engage more with issue-based politics”.
Prof Shirlow believes NHS murals showcase the fact that despite some issues still dividing communities here, there are many more, such as healthcare, that are universally shared.
in January last year, Channel 4’s hit Comedy Derry Girls was honoured with a mural on the side of Badger’s bar and restaurant in the city.
Last week UV Arts CIC updated the mural to show Erin, James (wee English fella), Clare, Michelle and Orla all wearing face masks.
Posting the image on Twitter, UV Arts said: “Derry girls, and the wee English fella have been doing their bit to stay safe and stay at home, just like you!
“Uppa NHS and a massive thank you to all our keyworkers and volunteers for the epic work they’re doing!
@dcsdcouncil @Derryvisitor @Channel4 @4Creative.”
Filming on a third series of Channel 4’s hit comedy which had been due to start in Derry recently was put on hold because of the Coronavirus outbreak.