The latest batch of murals in Northern Ireland's capital represents much more than a fresh coat of paint.
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Tourists in Belfast regularly make their way to the intersection of Newtownards Road and Templeton Avenue, an area known as Freedom Corner.
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The walls and buildings of Freedom Corner are adorned with striking murals honoring the Ulster Defence Association, the Ulster Freedom Fighters, and other paramilitary groups who fought on behalf of Protestant loyalists during the Troubles, the violent sectarian conflict that plagued Northern Ireland from 1968 to 1998, killing more than 3,500 people.
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Murals like these began appearing in Belfast in the early years of the conflict. Today, there are hundreds of them scattered throughout the city — paintings of Union Jacks and Irish flags, beatific portraits of fallen heroes, and menacing images of balaclava-clad, machine-gun-gripping paramilitaries.
Charles McQuillan/Getty ImagesThe Troubles formally ended in 1998, with the signing of the Good Friday agreement. At various points since, efforts have been made to replace the divisive, sectarian murals with more unifying images. In the photo above, a paramilitary tableau (foreground) gives way to a less polarizing Titanic memorial (background).Charles McQuillan/Getty ImagesThe Titanic was built in Belfast’s Harland & Wolff Shipyard, and its builders are the subject of another recent mural, this one made by Ed Reynolds for the Belfast City Council’s Re-Imaging Communities project. Here, there are no flags or guns or masks, no Protestant loyalists or Catholic unionists. The figures stand together in matching brown clothes — workers, not soldiers.
Charles McQuillan/Getty ImagesThe Re-Imaging Communities project is one of several initiatives drawing on the arts to encourage "positive relations between people from different backgrounds" and promote a new image of Belfast, both to its citizens and to cultural tourists. Another such initiative is the EastSide Partnership, which commissioned Dee Craig's mural of singer Van Morrison, footballer George Best, author C. S. Lewis, and other "Legends and Luminaries" of Belfast.Charles McQuillan/Getty ImagesToday, just a stone’s throw from Freedom Corner, Belfast’s newest mural is underway. It’s being painted by the Nomad Clan, a pair of UK street artists who have made murals all over Europe. When finished, it will depict a young woman with her eyes raised, surrounded by swirling lights and flax flowers — a nod to Belfast’s historical role in linen production.Charles McQuillan/Getty ImagesThe campaign to remake Belfast’s public spaces has been controversial. Some think that more uplifting murals will help the city heal; others are less sure. "You can't sweep 40 years of conflict under the carpet," a local leader told the Atlantic. Nor can you simply paint over them. But can you use new images of the past to imagine a different future? That’s the hope.