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Erasing Murals and Erasing Gaza

Gearóid Ó Loingsigh

13 March 2024

       
         Original Latuff cartoon.                              West Belfast mural.                                  Mural blacked out.

Once upon a time, Belfast was famed for its murals, so much so that even now a part of the tourist industry depends on a plastic paddy tour of the current murals on display in nationalist areas of Belfast.

It was the 1981 hunger strike and its aftermath that saw an explosion in political murals in nationalist areas.  As the 1980s went on, the technical and artistic quality of them improved dramatically and the politics they sought to represent expanded.  Some of them were very militaristic, others much more political in content.  On international issues, murals sprang up on South Africa, Palestine and figures from revolutionary struggles around the world were to be found on gable ends all over the city and indeed in other cities throughout the North.  Nelson Mandela, Steve Biko, Camilo Torres, Che amongst others looked down at the wandering revolutionary tourists who would come over in August.  The message was clear: Ireland was part of an international struggle against imperialism.(1)

After the peace process the quality continued to improve, but the politics went for a walk.  Twee Celtic murals abounded, young girls dancing a jig displaced images of women holding an armalite aloft for International Womenís Day.  Messages about Imperialism were softened, when not blunted entirely or removed.  So, it comes as no surprise to see what has happened to recent murals.

Sinn Féin supporters recently unveiled murals in solidarity with Palestine.  They are of good quality and try to capture the suffering of the Palestinians through the images and poignant quotes.  However, they say nothing about who is causing the suffering: the US and Israel, though there are silhouette ghostly like images of soldiers standing over dead children.  There was once a mural on the White Rock Road which pictured a US Indian superimposed over a US flag saying Your struggle, Our struggle.  No references are to be made now to the US role in exterminating a people.  That is strictly Verboten.

However, someone decided to reproduce a cartoon from the artist Carlos Latuff in mural form in Belfast.  It depicts Joe Biden, standing with bloodied hands in front of Mary Lou, who is clearly identifiable in the image, and the leaders of FG and FF, who can be identified from the initials FG and FF on their backs.  The British Army and the RUC used to deface republican murals, not any more.  Very quickly, Sinn Féin, officially or unofficially (no pun intended, though it is apt) painted over the mural.  It was quickly restored by others, who the artist Latuff described as real republicans.(2)

Sinn Féin are clearly uncomfortable about the issue in the run up their fest in Washington with Biden and not only are they content to throw Palestinians out of public meetings, they will now supress any public artistic attempts to draw peopleís attention to the Slaughter Soirée they will have in the White House.

Many Palestinian voices such as the Electronic Intifada have called on Sinn Féin not to go to Washington, the calls in Ireland have been much more muted and tamer on the issue.  However, it is a clear issue, what is colloquially called a no-brainer.  You donít have to think very deeply to understand that Sinn Féin shouldnít go to Washington DC, that they should tell Genocide Joe they donít want to meet him.  They will go and they will say nothing about Palestine.  Their erasure of a mural criticising them, tells you everything you need to know about their real attitude to Palestine: Whatever you say, say nothing, used to be a catchphrase about loose talk and informers, now it means never mention Joe Biden and the Palestinians in the same breath, unless you are green washing genocide.  Meanwhile Sinn Féin does its part, emulating the British army and vandalising political murals.

Notes

(1)  A selection of images can be seen on Bill Rolstonís website.  Rolston has chronicled and photographed murals going right back to the 1970s.  See https://billrolston.weebly.com

(2) See https://x.com/LatuffCartoons/status/1767239594083324017?s=20
 


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