Irish muralists take residency at UMass
Once enemies during the Irish War of Independence, artists Danny Devenny and Mark Ervine, sat together on March 30 in the Cape Code Lounge at the University of Massachusetts. In front of a crowded room, the two discussed how they began collaborating with mural painting and the peace process in Ireland about four years ago.
Despite the torrential rain, UMass graduate and undergraduate students, faculty, staff and the Amherst community members came to learn about Devenny, a former prisoner from the Irish Republican Army and Ervine, whose father was a Progressive Unionist Party leader and Ulster Volunteer Force member.
The artists talked about their pasts, dealing with the prolonged conflicts in Ireland. In a presentation titled, “Contested Geographies/Shared Future: Mural Making in Belfast, 1972-2010,” part of the “Art of Conflict Transformation Event Series,” the artists talked about growing up during the war and showed a slideshow of murals from the past 100 years, including many they have painted themselves.
Devenny has painted over 1,500 murals himself, as well as about 10 in collaboration with Ervine who has also been painting murals since he was a young boy. Though these artists grew up roughly 200 feet from each other, they were raised in opposing communities and therefore met just four years ago. Shortly after meeting, the two artists decided to work together painting murals.
There are about 2,000 murals in Northern Ireland, as they were used as a way to express peoples’ beliefs and causes of conflict in the war, according to Leah Wing, professor of legal studies and one of the coordinators of the event. Large images painted on the sides of buildings and houses would depict soldiers in battle, exclaim war slogans and political phrases while also honoring those who had died.
“They were used to explain our cause, that’s where the murals originated from,” said Devenny in a thick Irish accent.
Devenny and Ervine, who both painted murals during the war, are now using their art to promote peace and healing in a country that has only recently come out of conflict. The Good Friday Agreement, creating an equal and democratic Ireland, was signed in 1998, and is just recently being implemented.
Devenny, a republican, and Ervine, a loyalist, hoped that by coming together to paint, they would show that other people from rival communities could also come together and create a peaceful future. Devenny and Ervine wanted to help the process of peace and resolution and some murals they have painted together portray this goal. A mural that they painted for the UMass Legal Studies department depicts Ireland’s war conflict in blue, while the foreground of the picture shows Devenny’s grandchildren and Ervine’s children in vibrant colors, holding banners that promote moving ahead of the conflict and making peace with each other.
A small caption in the corner of the mural reads, “painting from the same palette,” emphasizing their hope to “build a shared future of a shared community.”
The artists said they were not hesitant about deciding to work together and that they have been thanked by both of their communities for their murals and their efforts to bring the communities together peaceably.
“If there was a risk, we were both willing to take it,” said Ervine. “The message is far more important than the risk.”
The government is currently spending money on removing murals from the war, such as ones that show hooded gunmen. Devenny and Ervine said they were not upset about the removal of the images, as it is a part of moving away from the violence.
“As a community moves forward the murals will depict different things,” said Ervine.
Devenny and Ervine’s trip to UMass took three years to plan and was rescheduled five different times between last March and now, according to Wing, who said she had met Devenny years ago when she was in Ireland and became inspired by the murals.
It took a year to get Devenny a Visa to visit America because he is considered a terrorist since he was once a member of the I.R.A. but with the help of Congressman Richard Neal, their long planned trip was finally feasible.
“Congressman Neal was instrumental in forward thinking and making it possible for us to learn about the peace process from these two gentlemen,” said Wing.
Devenny and Ervine are now collaborating on another mural, which is taking place at UMass in the Campus Center Reading Room. The artists began painting on Saturday, March 27 and are hoping to be finished by Friday, April 2.
The mural was designed to reflect the ideas of UMass students who submitted their thoughts on a blog and through public Skype meetings with the artists over the course of the past year. The main theme of the mural, according to the artists, is to represent diversity and the students of UMass.
About 50 to 70 students and faculty have been stopping by to help paint each day since the artists began.
The mural will be unveiled by Congressman Neal on Monday, April 5 in the Campus Center Auditorium from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m.
Anna Meiler can be reached firstname.lastname@example.org.