We believe it is the artist’s role to keep alive those values, which are basic and human, and to resist those forces, which seek to undermine and compromise that integrity. Our work, as The Bogside Artists, is purposefully directed to educating and edifying. For us, this means fixing the past so that the disasters it speaks of do not happen again. That doesn’t mean it is the artist’s job to make people better or more human.
People caught in crossfire, whether it be in Jerusalem or Belfast, do not reflect on the contents of the Louvre unless it be to wonder what good is any of it when the bullets start flying
If the creative spirit depends on a truthful state of mind, then only those with a conscience have the right to live there. And once situated there, they must also be aware that they are in the service of a moral and therefore a social imperative to express that truth fearlessly. And because this service is essentially social, the artist’s work is political, whether he wishes it or not; Art, in its roles of witness, messenger, and counsellor, has always been to the forefront in this context. It was for the people of conscience primarily, that the Gulag Archipelago was built. If the pen is mightier than the sword, the paintbrush is oftentimes mightier than either. When in fact, we speak of art being trans-personal we are speaking of its social character, for it is its social character that determines its ultimate efficacy.
The ship called ‘Modern Art’ would appear to have lost her way. Not only are its maps no longer reliable, but its navigation equipment is knackered. In Ireland, consciously or otherwise, the ideology implanted by the old colonialism still holds sway. So much so, that you could be forgiven for thinking it is the Tourist Board that controls modern Irish culture. “Successful” Irish artists have hitherto been those who have followed established European aesthetic traditions per se.
It has always been like that. Middle-class values and their “Cling-Ons”, decide what is art and what isn’t. Inevitably, as with editors of newspapers and television program controllers, they manoeuvre themselves into a position whereby they can promote these values. Their masters in business and conservative politics facilitate their rise to eminence. This is why there are no great paintings or sculptures from the Ireland’s famine period of 1845-47 when a million people died and over two million were to emigrate over the following decade. Still less, will you find a painting from the time depicting the 1916 uprising.
Were it not for our writers in fact, there would not have been any artistic commentary on those times at all. That this attitude should still prevail in the face of over 30 years of dire political conflict, is nothing short of bewildering. In vain, do you argue with these people that what we refer to as ‘great art’, whether it be European or not, had its roots in social conflict. Picasso, and before him Manet, were taking a swipe at the moral hypocrisies of their day. Manet’s ‘Olympia’ is the precursor of ‘Les Demoiselles D’Avignon’. Neither was acceptable in their own time. Marcel Duchamp’s entire output follows from the same reaction to prevailing cultural values. Magritte’s work speaks of man’s social alienation. Honore Daumier and George Grosz, both powerfully influential artists, were social critics first and foremost. Kathe Kollwitz and Francisco Goya were brutally honest reporters on human social injustice. Whole movements, like Dadaism, Surrealism and German Expressionism were essentially reactions against social and therefore political restraints.
And let us not forget the era of the witch-hunts, conducted by the Un-American Activities committees when artists again were singled out as the chief enemies of the state. Prominent in the game was Richard Nixon, incidentally. Criminals, even petty ones, do not like witnesses. Messengers can only deliver the message. The counsellor is more likely to lose his head in the dungeons than get an invitation to the wing-ding at the palace.
The Bogside Artists, whenever they are taken seriously, are seen as political activists. To ourselves, we are three men who are simply engaged in documenting our history in a way we think appropriate. Nothing more, nothing less. We leave it to so-called “contemporary” artists to befuddle the public with pseudo-scientific bull, to humiliate it with its own ‘ignorance’, or to persuade it towards revolution.
The poet Seamus Heaney, objecting vehemently to having been included in a British anthology of poetry, explained himself thus: “What is the source of our first suffering? It lies in the fact that we hesitated to speak....It was born in the moment when we accumulated silent things within us”. Well, with due deference to the great poet, we have not hesitated to speak. We felt strongly, that the daily media-outpourings of tribal cant and unsubstantiated vilification concerning all those who stood up for civil rights since 1968 required a response that would endure long enough for the truth of our human dignity to prevail.
2005 Itinerary USA
SAN FRANCISCO, March 13-15, 2005
Sunday, March 13:
ST. PATRICK’S DAY PARADE in San Francisco
Monday, March 14
at 1-3 P.M. & 6-8 P.M.
UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA, BERKELEY
Martin Luther King Student Center 4th Level
in the TAN OAK ROOM
Tuesday, March 15
GLOBAL EXCHANGE - meeting with the board of Global Exchange
The artists will also be speaking at the UNIVERSITY OF SAN FRANCISCO
NEW YORK, March 16-22, 2005
Wednesday, March 16
at 7:00 P.M. - 8:30 P.M.
IRISH ARTS CENTER
553 West 51st Street New York, NY 10019
Thursday, March 17
ST. PATRICK’S DAY PARADE in New York
Friday, March 18
at 7:00 P.M. - 8:30 P.M.
65-30 Kissena Blvd. Flushing, NY 11367
Rosenthal Library Room 230
Monday, March 21
at 7 P.M. - 9 P.M.
953 Danby Road Ithaca, NY 14850
For more information, visit https://www.bogsideartists.com