Beautiful Barriers: Art and Identity along a Belfast ‘Peace’ Wall
Keywords:public art, Northern Irish conflict, spatial identities
This article explores the representational implications of an ongoing project along Belfast’s main peace wall to transform the loyalist side of the barrier into an outdoor art gallery. Drawing in part on the interplay between social production and social construction (Low 2000) in the analysis of public space, the wall’s art is assessed as one means through which both elites and ordinary people inscribe meaning in the landscape. Particular attention is focused on a recently added mural, created as part of a European Union-funded initiative to promote ‘shared cultural space’, and the identity this promotes for the local population. Using ethnographic data gathered through participant observation as well as interviews with policymakers, artists, community stakeholders and residents, I suggest that while the wall’s art is not necessarily received or experienced by the Protestant community in the manner it is intended, it broadly serves as a touchstone by which narratives of conflict and communal ties are activated, and the neighbourhood’s evolving identity as an element in a new tourist-oriented economy is brought to the fore.