Beyond the Walls (USA and Argentina, 00:92:32)

Directed by: Gayle Embrey

Written by: Gayle Embrey, Zeke Eagan

The modern mural movement began in the late 1960’s in the United States in response to the Viet Nam War, Black Power, the Women’s Liberation Movement and the Farm Worker’s Movement. Activists and artists in other countries around the world quickly began using this form of expression to address their own social issues and concerns.

Mural historian Timothy Drescher, PhD states, “Mural painting has become one of the currencies in which social movements take place.” Conor McGrady, an artist who has created murals in both Northern Ireland and the United States adds, “For communities that don’t have a voice, that are marginalized, that don’t have access to the media, newspapers and television, and who can’t get their message out to the world at large, then their own streets, their own communities, their own public arena is the next best place to do that.”

Community murals are created to remember the past, to bring communities together for a common purpose and to speak out about issues of current importance. New York artist Nina Lasky says she is, “attracted to community collaborative work that brings people together to work together for something bigger than our individual missions.”

Beyond The Walls tells the stories, through murals, as depicted on the walls in the West Bank, Northern Ireland, Liberia, El Salvador, Argentina, Australia, and the United States.

The film begins in the Morazan area of El Salvador where local residents experienced a massacre during their civil war that ended in the early 1990’s. We hear the story of how the recent making of a mural in El Mozote brought residents from both sides of the conflict together. Artist and mural facilitator Claudia Bernardi says, “It is a fantastic proposal for a first stage of diplomacy.”

Since their civil war, El Salvador has become one of the most violent places on Earth for women. Women who were guerrillas during the civil war have formed a women’s organization to stop these high levels of violence, collaborating with artists to create murals to educate women about their rights in rural areas of the country.

From El Salvador we travel to the Aboriginal Illawarra area of Australia where Aboriginal artists create murals to teach others about their culture, their history and to preserve their sacred burial grounds and lands. The film follows an activist and two artists as they work to restore full dignity and rights to the Aboriginal people.

Next, Beyond The Walls takes the audience to the United States to learn more about the work of women mural artists who helped fuel the modern mural movement, with a focus on women’s contributions to American society. We then learn how two organizations in Brooklyn, New York use mural making as a way to work with youth who experience poverty, discrimination and, often, criminalization.
Unue Perez, a former teen mural participant now works with youth in Brooklyn. He believes that the murals put the issues out there, to let the community know, “Look, this is the problem. So in that way we speak for people who don’t talk.”

The film continues an exploration of current issues where murals are being painted by telling a story from the West Bank. An Israeli settler near Hebron uses mural making to show the history of Jews in that area as a way to establish their right to be settled there. Palestinian artists, former detainees in Israeli prisons, now use their paintbrushes as their form of resistance.

In Argentina, we tell the story of the Disappeared during the Dirty War and military dictatorship. We meet a young woman who was taken when they murdered her parents then was given to a family that supported the dictatorship. She only recently learned that her family was not her birth family. The murals we explore in Argentina and the characters we meet elaborate on the ways that the actions of a military dictatorship who tortured and murdered people in the 1970’s and 80’s have repercussions and require ongoing activism today.

Argentine activist and mural artist Emilse Ianni sums it up, “Painting next to someone who is not from the same social class that you are, who has not the same color of skin that you have, that may change your way of thinking.”

Northern Ireland has one of the richest mural traditions in the world. In Derry and Belfast, we revisit the modern conflict between Loyalists to the British crown, the British government and the Republicans who strive to restore a united Ireland.
Murals bring communities together to tell the stories of their life experiences which are often ignored by mainstream media. “We are trying to articulate the fact of witnessing. We’ve recorded those experiences as witnesses on those walls,” says Will Kelly of The Bogside Artists from Derry. Belfast muralist Dan Devenny adds, “Basically the ideas that we put on the walls are the ideas, the discussions, the debates which we hear in the street.”

The film’s journey ends in Liberia where three civil wars have left the citizens without sufficient food resources. Teenagers in Harper, Liberia, under the tutelage of a mural artist from the United States, create murals to help teach local residents about health practices and ways to grow food for themselves and their families.

Throughout the film, we deepen our understanding of how community murals are created and the purposes they serve, both past and present. Personal stories of community residents as well as the experiences of those creating the murals are woven together in every location. The film concludes with final thoughts from some of the muralists and a montage of murals from around the world.