The Bogside Artists' Exhibition Banned in Berlin

Share Article

Berlin Parliament President Walter Momper Refuses to Speak to Derry City Council, The Irish Ambassdor and Nobel Prize Winner John Hume.

At the recent Klartext conference arts in Berlin dealing with politics and the arts, Bogside Artist and spokesman Tom Kelly gave an address in which the ongoing conflict between the Berlin Parliament and the artists was elucidated.

The story that is fast becoming an epic began on November 11th last year when the Bogside Artists' exhibition “From Protest to Peace” was to have opened at the Berlin House of Parliament Gallery, (Berliner Abgeordnetenhaus). This was an exhibition sponsored by the Irish Government’s Foreign Office in Dublin. It had also been shown in London and Couvy (Belgium) prior to its scheduled appearance in Berlin. Ken Livingstone in fact had been invited by Derry’s Mayor, Gerry O’Hara to open the London exhibition but was otherwise engaged on the proposed date.

Days before the launch in Berlin, the exhibition was cancelled by Walter Momper, President of the Berlin State Parliament.

Although Walter Momper and the Berliner Abgeordbnetenhaus were made fully aware of the exhibition and its contents, and had agreed previously to its showing at the Parliament House in Berlin, his explanation for cancelling the exhibition at short notice was; because “the work "presents the (political) conflict in Northern Ireland from one particular perspective. Such partiality from the point of view of the artist is completely legitimate but cannot be sponsored under the auspices of the highest constitutional organ of the state of Berlin”. (Art Monthly, London, Dec/Jan 04/05, No. 282, P14.)

What follows are extracts from the speech delivered by Tom last Saturday to a packed conference.

“ What then do we paint? Our history, in a word. We work in the public arena. Our murals are huge and easily seen. They occupy a public thoroughfare in the middle of The Bogside. Thousands of people who come to Derry visit them each year. The take photographs. They think about what they have seen. They come from all walks of life, all countries and all conceivable disciplines. So, it is evident that our murals are political. We take the view that all art, especially public art is political and cannot be other but this is not the place to argue the point.

Our work is commemorative. It does not seek to violate the minds of those who may see it, to humiliate them, to drive them to revolution or make them feel uncivilized, or blind. Nor incidentally does it seek to morally or culturally reform anybody in the illusion that we, the artists, are something special in the world because we can draw an egg to look like an egg. We certainly do not pander to the needs of money-grubbing curators in their eternal search for cunning novelty, which seems to be the remit of what glorifies itself as "contemporary art" these days. You will not abolish the Mona Lisa or what she has to say to us by calling her ‘old-fashioned’ or worse ‘non-contemporary’. The best of what men have created is old fashioned and as life goes on it will become more old-fashioned not less. What is good however remains. Our work speaks to people because that is what we want it to do. We are ‘old-fashioned’ enough to believe there is still a connection between art and communication.

Our last mural was a peace mural for the city. The BBC came from London to film it. It shows a large white dove graphically rendered on a tiled background made up of colours we found in schoolkids’ paintings. The footage was broadcast throughout Asia and Europe. Many millions of people got to see it. Desmond Murray, the BBC commentator on the film, had this to say.

"Necessarily, the work of The Bogside Artists is political, but not in the sense of party political. They are absolutely not sectarian, nor purely nationalist. If anything, to me at least - and I ain't no art critic - they have probably captured some kind of universal rage, or hurt, at what circumstances, and life, have hurled at a specific community. For sure, it is the story of the Bogside - but after all, it is their story and they do not presume to tell anyone else's story."

Some people you see understand what we are doing and why. Your President Herr Momper, I regret to inform you, is not one of them. Herr Momper frankly is an idiot. And quite possibly a Philistine.

When the Berlin wall came down Herr Momper announced to the press: "We need to build bridges among peoples, nations and cultures so that they can contribute to a growing Europe."

Really? When did he change his mind ………and why didn't he bother to tell anybody? Is this how you build bridges?

Our show was cancelled by Herr Momper who personally decided that this is what he wanted done and saw fit to over-ride his own cultural committee in order to do so. And he had his way. It is logical for us to assume that he must have had a reason for making this decision. Right? What reason? It is certainly not the one he gave us, because by that reasoning he would have been too busy removing foreign postage stamps from his daily correspondence and returning them to their countries of origin to have had time to say anything!

This is where it gets tough seeing as Herr Momper didn't tell anybody what the real reason is. In fact, an entreaty from the Irish Ambassador here in Berlin to Momper asking him to explain himself was not answered. That letter was sent over two months ago. The Derry City council also sent him a letter three weeks ago asking for an explanation. Still no word.

Just before I left Derry, John Hume, Nobel Peace Prize winner and leader of the Social Democratic Labour Party in Northern Ireland, sent Herr Momper a letter asking him for an explanation. Will Hume also get to wait in line with the rest and whistle in the dark?

Why the silence? Unprofessional conduct may be permissible if an acceptable excuse for it can be found for it but blunderbuss abuse is not acceptable, least of all from a parliamentary leader whose popularity rests on his image as a “man of the people”, someone indeed who purports to represent an entire race. Someone indeed, who’s declared mission is to “build bridges between peoples, cultures, etc”.

Our exhibition comprises ten large photos of our murals showing 30 years of a dire struggle for democratic freedom. It is non-sectarian, non-partisan. It may reveal a keen sense of injustice and even a yearning for justice but we make no apologies for that. We would have failed in our artistic mission if we did not show how we felt about the events we witnessed. Or would you rather, like Herr Momper, we told you a pack of lies?

Our work espouses no singular political viewpoint. It is a record of events that have impacted the minds of people in Derry and elsewhere. It is commemorative art, just as commemorative as the German monuments Herr Momper occasionally lays wreathes against. It is moreover and, perhaps more importantly, an exercise of the right to free expression for which countless people have died in two world wars and which governments everywhere are pledged to protect. You would think any Social Democrat worth his salt would be the first to champion that right, not publicly betray it while mouthing platitudes about friendship between peoples, cultures, and all the rest of it.”

For those of you who are unfamiliar with the entire saga of The Bogside Artists’ conflict with the Berlin House of Parliament, you can download the following PDF file. It is a large file and will take a minute or two.

The Bogside Artists versus Herr Momper.

# # #

Share article on social media or email:

View article via:

Pdf Print

Contact Author

Will Kelly