Opinion: Teenage Dreams So Hard To Beat …
This week, residents of Belfast woke to find a piece of ‘graffiti’ had been whitewashed from the motorway flyover it had adorned for many years.
The graffiti in question was a tribute to John Peel, champion of NI natives The Undertones, with a lyric from his favourite song ‘Teenage Kicks’. It appeared the day after he died thanks to the T.D.S Graffiti Crew of East Belfast. It was a relatively inoffensive piece of street art that had become so part of the landscape that its absence was noticed almost immediately.
Naturally, people on Twitter were not impressed.
The eventual culprit was found to be the Department of Social Development as part of an ‘urban regeneration scheme’. It is quite unsettling that removing the one piece of positive imagery from the area that everyone in the city could get behind was high on the list of priorities. We can only assume that levelling children’s playgrounds and burning trees is next on the agenda.
Belfast is no stranger to street art. In fact, one of the most popular and successful elements of our Post-Troubles tourism is built around the wall art scattered across the city. The murals emerged in Belfast and across NI, during the darkest days of our history to promote loyalist or republican beliefs in specific communities. They declared territory, made political statements, encouraged solidarity, some aimed to intimidate, some glorified the violence and some commemorated those that had been lost and they were painted in every colour and came in every size. Not all were pleasant. Many still exist and still intimidate. Almost all serve as handy signposts if you ever get lost.
As we move into a time of relative peace, these murals are slowly being replaced by ones with more hopeful, positive imagery – many depicting events of historical or cultural importance or celebrating local people – but many of the murals illustrating the deep set divisions in our society remain.
Like them or not, we all acknowledge these old murals have historical significance and to quote one particular wall that I pass almost daily, ‘Those who forget the past are condemned to repeat it’. As for tourists, people tend to want to see the ugly as well as the beautiful. The ‘Teenage Dreams’ mural was actually part of a popular music themed walking tour hosted by Terri Hooley.
You may still wonder what the issue is. Street art is always being removed. Streets continually evolve. No doubt the DSD consulted someone before the white paint came out.
In truth, this may not have been the most impressive piece of graffiti art the world had ever seen but people are upset because it is genuinely sad to see it go when there are new, very unnecessary, aggressive paramilitary murals popping up elsewhere that are somehow permitted to stay. There is no justification for this mural to go when offensive, intimidating and angry artwork is still being created. We can forgive keeping some old sectarian murals because they provide an insight into a time that is hopefully behind us but we cannot allow new murals of this kind to go unchallenged.
Regardless of your personal opinion on the artistic merits of graffiti, removing this mural was a terrible shame and a great loss to the city.
In response to the criticism, the DSD and local representatives supposedly plan to develop a proposal to replace ‘Teenage Dreams’ with a nice cross community effort between local teenagers. It’s a wonder what they could possibly come up with that would say more than the short lyric they removed.
Either way, someone better put it the fuck back up or we’ll all be forced to grab the nearest can of spray paint and do it ourselves.