'We Are Here': amid all the masculine, military images, an Iranian artist's mural of Belfast's women
Leyli Rashidirauf is an Iranian artist who has spent the past few months in Northern Ireland. She's been painting a forty-metre mural alongside the Peace Wall that runs through Belfast.
It's an exceptional piece of public art - bold in conception and in execution. The mural depicts women: their faces, their limbs, their bodies. Some are local to the city; others have moved to Belfast, 'The city's walls are often adorned with military and masculine imagery', the artist told me. 'But this mural aims to claim a space that represents women'.
'We Are Here', the title of this artwork, is all the more remarkable because of its location. The huge mural is in a close to inaccessible fenced off area on the Shankill (that is Loyalist) side of the Peace Wall.
When Leyli Rashidirauf breaks off from painting to talk to passers by, she has to walk seventy yards or so and even then is conversing through a formidable metal security fence.
Yet the peace walls are one of Belfast's biggest draws. They are on the tourist bus routes, and feature in the taxi tours round the political street art - that's how we came across Leyli and her mural.
The Troubles continue to define Belfast, for outsiders above all. And this public art close to the Peace Wall is probably more noticed and talked about than if it was in pole position in the city centre.
'It was interesting for me to see that this wall serves as a tourist attraction, even though it still separates people's lives in the city. It reinforces a sense of isolation and division yet generates income and interest in this part of the city', Rashidirauf comments.
'This wall continues to play its unfortunate role of separation and othering.'
The mural is monochrome and painted in acrylic. It's on a wall that runs parallel to the peace wall, which is an altogether more formidable and unwelcoming barrier.
The project was undertaken under the auspices of ArtEZ University in the Netherlands, where Leyli Rashidirauf has been a Master's student.
'Our studio was located in the Shankill area of Belfast and most of the communities that were introduced to us were in this area', she explains. 'I decided to approach a community organisation called Alternatives. They showed me five or six different sites and eventually I chose this long wall facing the Peace Wall.'
'A plaque provides a brief explanation about the women I painted who shared with me their stories and experiences of gender, the body, space and belonging.'
'While working on this mural, as a woman painter of colour, I engaged in numerous conversations with local residents and visitors. My public presence as an artist raised questions and sparked conversations about political and social issues.'
'I believe the most significant aspect of the mural is the act of occupying a space through the images of women, their bodies and their gaze.'
Thanks to Leyli Rashidirauf for breaking off from painting and coming over to talk to us and for responding to my questions by email. And thanks to my friend Brian Kelly for the marvellous photographs.
These are two stunning finials by the ceramicist Gilbert Bayes which have found sanctuary in a small but lovely new museum in Somers Town.
Bayes designed these finials to be placed on top of poles in drying yards. The aim was to add an aesthetic pleasure to social housing in and around Somers Town. He also designed wonderful ceramic lunettes - still on display around the Sidney Street Estate in Somers Town - featuring scenes from fairy tales.
Scandalously, all the original 1930s Bayes finials have been taken from their posts and most are missing presumed stolen. In two or three spots, replacements have been put up - but lacking the sheen and quality of the original.
The two ceramic works above - one representing a tailor and the other a draper - were bought at auction in the United States on behalf of the People's Museum in Somers Town simply to enable the restitution of apparently looted art to the community for which it was created. The Camden New Journal told the story back in February -
Hats off to Stephen and Diana for bringing these wonderful Bayes works of art back home!
They are among the moving forces of the People's Museum on Phoenix Road in Somers Town, small and cosy and altogether sparkling.
The museum also has one of Bayes's sailing ship finials -
And still wrapped up and recently arrived from the cellar of the housing association which failed to protect so many of the Bayes originals is a wonderful ceramic carpenter's bag of tools - for St Joseph, who was of course a carpenter.
Among the photographs on display is one which shows some of Bayes's finials - in this case a few of four-and-twenty blackbirds - in position in a Somers Town drying area back in the day
And there are wonderful mementoes of the strong radical tradition in the area - it housed the Communist-aligned Unity Theatre from 1936 for almost forty years and earlier was the home of the anarchist Freedom Press.
Today was my first visit to this museum - I'll certainly be going again. Do ye likewise! They have regular talks and are devising a heritage walk around Somers Town, so lots to look forward to..
This handbill marking the hanging at Lancaster in 1812 of eight alleged Luddites, seeking to resist the introduction of new machinery into textile mills, is a rare survival. More than 200 years old and still in one piece. I bought it from a bookshop in Salisbury (not noted as a ccntre of Luddism!) thirty-five years ago.
I am delighted that this handbill - not simply a similar broadside, but this very item - features in Nick Mansfield's and Martin Wright's excellent new book, Made by Labour: a material and visual history of British labour, c1780-1924. It's a brilliant book and produced to very high standards - do check it out!
The handbill has a crude representation of a hanged person dangling from the gibbet - the sort of visual image which could probably be recycled on 'execution' handbills, peddled on the streets at the time of a hanging.
And in case you are curious, this is what Made by Labour says about this deeply evocative piece of ephemera.
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