Last May we released District Magazine 002. The edition featured an interview by Hannah O’Connell with artist Shirani Bolle. They spoke about Bolle’s then controversial Repeal mural painted in The Bernard Shaw in 2016, trying to understand Irish abortion laws as a Londoner and online censorship of art. A year later, and just over a week out from the referendum, here’s an updated version of that original piece.
Shirani Bolle moved to Ireland from her London home two years ago. The artist who creates “purposely rubbish” work inspired by “celebrity and pop culture” believes that it’s important for art to serve a greater purpose, so naturally, Bolle found herself involved with the Repeal movement soon after she arrived.
In September 2016 she painted a large mural on a wall at The Bernard Shaw. The piece showed a Hijab-wearing, breastfeeding female, Botox needle sticking from her cheek, the word ‘SLUT’ written on her stomach and the caption ‘Stop Letting Old Men Decide What Women Should Do With Their Bodies!’.
Street art has played a prominent, albeit controversial, role in the Repeal campaign – Maser’s mural having now found a more permanent home on the windows of businesses like Panti Bar. On her decision to create the piece Shirani told me, “There are lots of amazing street artists out there but there are a lot of people who just do pretty pictures and I feel like street art isn’t supposed to be that. We don’t need any more pretty things, we need people using their opportunities to speak up”.
Abortion has been legal in the England since 1967. Shirani has never known it any other way. The Londoner recalled her initial reaction to Ireland’s laws following her emigration.
“I was so shocked, it’s so shocking; it’s unbelievable. For you guys, you’re shocked by it, but you’re somewhat used to it because it’s your country. I still can’t believe this is happening. I’m furious about it.
“After I did the mural I was speaking to my sister who still lives in London. I called her over FaceTime and I could see in her face when I told her that, she didn’t even really understand what it meant because it’s so unbelievable. When I explained again she just went ‘What the fuck’ and was so shocked.”
Speaking on how she got involved with the project Bolle told me, “It was a girl called Erica that phoned me and asked me to come down. I’d only been here a short while and I’m not a well-known street artist but I feel like it’s important to use your opportunities to say something. At the time the topic was all over the news and I wanted to add even the tiniest bit of light onto it. I didn’t care what happened.”
The mural garnered only positive feedback, but Bolle understands that this isn’t necessarily a true representation of the general consensus. “Everyone in my circle of friends is going to think that it’s a good thing so you’re sort of in a bubble of just hearing what you think anyway.”
All of the artist’s work conveys a message, not intentionally but simply, “That’s just what comes out”, and celebrity is a big theme for Bolle with Kim Kardashian, Miley Cyrus and Eminem all featuring heavily.
“I’m really interested in how celebrity culture has infiltrated our awareness. I find that fascinating and terrifying at the same time. I get a lot from all of that. I’m also interested in how things affect women specifically. How pop culture and consumerism affect us as women really inspires me.”
In 2015 a depiction of Kim Kardashian with a penis was removed from Bolle’s Instagram account. She took to Facebook to express her outrage in a status that read, “We are able to see Kim K’s actual vagina everyday but a cartoon of an imaginary transgender Kim is deemed inappropriate”.
Following a string of cases where Instagram has removed photographs of nipples (#freethenipple), semi-naked bodies, images of menstrual blood and breastfeeding mothers Bolle said, “I think it’s terrible. Art, in particular, should be able to be put out there, even offensive art”.
“We need to show how things are and not censor people. I don’t think it helps anything. It just covers everything up and doesn’t do anything for society. Why do they (social media platforms) make things seem bad that aren’t bad?”
Bolle took a break from sharing her creations for a couple of months but since April has been busily posting new pieces to her Instagram account. Recent celebrity subjects include Kevin Spacey and a poignant depiction of Kanye West with the words ‘How did I end up here?’ etched into the canvas.
Coming full circle to the interview we did this month last year there’s now a new Shirani Bolle Repeal mural on that same wall in The Bernard Shaw. I got back in touch to get her final thoughts on the campaign in the run up to next Friday’s referendum.
“There’s too much to say”, she tells me. “We shouldn’t have to wait for more tragedies and pain to occur to allow women the opportunity to decide what is correct for themselves and their bodies. This is a fundamental human right and without this choice women in Ireland are trapped and remain slaves to an outdated law.”