Oct 5, 2000 - By Beth Sweeney
Memories of Bloody Sunday and the conflict in Northern Ireland came alive at Villanova University on Sept. 27 Falvey Library opened its exhibition of seven explosive murals of the Bogside artists, a group of three mural painters from Derry City, Northern Ireland. Their collection, called "From Conflict to Peace," is currently on display on the second floor of the library and will move to the Villanova Room of the Connelly Center for a reception for Bogside artist Tom Kelly on Oct. 9.
"This is history," Kelly said of his murals. "We must move on or learn from it and we must have the courage, when the time is right, to face it."
Kelly has been facing his history as a citizen of Derry for his entire life. For the past 30 years, Kelly has expressed a call for peace and the celebration of religious differences in his paintings. A painter of Irish political struggles since the late 1960s, he seeks to promote unity in the Christian faith through his artwork. He also hopes to encourage young people to celebrate their differences.
The Oct. 9 showing will reunite all 16 of the 7'x 8' canvas panels on the Bogside artists' world tour. Their exhibition in the Villanova Room will the only time all of the canvases will be displayed together in the Philadelphia area.
Although this is its first trip to the University, the artists' work has been exhibited all over the country. It also appeared at the Irish Cultural Center in Manhattan and at the Massachusetts State House in Boston.
In addition to speaking at the reception, Kelly has given several explanations of his artwork in the library and spoke to classes, including the Villanova Experience. Kelly hopes his visit to the University will expose the message of his work to an entirely new audience, and increase awareness of the reality of life in Northern Ireland.
"We want to tell our own story," said Kelly. "For too long the media and everyone else has been telling it for us."
The Bogside artists, named for the Catholic ghetto in Derry, are well known for their grand-scale accounts of violence and rioting, which decorate the buildings of their hometown. After years of spreading their message through art, the trio's murals are now a permanent part of the Derry cityscape and building officials now prepare building walls for their murals.
Commerce and Finance professor Jim Klingler was instrumental in bringing the Bogside murals to the University. After leading a Habitat for Humanity trip to Northern Ireland and witnessing the building murals in the city firsthand, Klingler committed himself to hosting Kelly's murals and message of peace at the University.
"What we saw in Derry was far deeper than we had imagined," said Klingler at a presentation to the Villanova Experience. "We knew these ideas had to get to Villanova."
Kelly's message resonates within the murals themselves. After years of political manipulation and injustice, he found his voice of peaceful resistance in art.
"I stand here as a survivor, not a victim," said Kelly. "Art creates, it doesn't destroy."