The Leith Mural Project


Posted by in August's Magazine

LeithLate is an annual multi-arts event, which frankly, should have featured in this rag long since, not because of its Leith connections, rather that it has made its mark on the wider Edinburgh arts scene and will, I would wager, continue to do so on a national scale. Here, LeithLate’s Morvern Cunningham explains a little about a couple of their ongoing projects.

We are now well into the third year of our main event, LeithLate 2013, having finished a few weeks ago. (If you haven’t been it is an evening of small miracles and wonders and if the sun is out it can be quite magical. Imagine a rollercoaster ride of the imagination that for one night only transforms Leith Walk into a teeming trail of installations, art exhibitions, music, poetry slams and film screenings. A Cabinet of Curiosities in Leith Barbers and Stuffland, in that brilliant 1970s sports and greeting card shop were standouts for me – Ed.) Ahem, back to Morvern…

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However LeithLate isn’t only for one night we have a commitment to attracting contemporary art to Leith all year round, and this includes street art. Between the 2012 and 2013 events we ran The Shutter Project, an initiative that brought together contemporary artists and local Leith business owners to create a bespoke artwork on the shutter of the business, to be displayed outside opening hours. There are now six artworks completed on a variety of businesses, from cafes to beauty parlours! Hopefully we’ll be able to raise funding for some more, as we’ve had a great response from the public.

The SS Explorer
In the meantime however we’ve been working on a larger public art initiative for Leith, over eight months in the making. The Mural Project is an ambitious plan to create a new contemporary mural for Leith in a once derelict space on the site of a former mural on the end of the old railway bridge at the corner of Halmyre Street and Gordon Street. In the 1980s, there were a series of murals painted across the Leith neighbourhood and this project hands the torch to a whole new generation of Leithers. The artists are from a collective that regularly paint large-scale collaborative works, having previously worked on installations such as Rough Cut Nation at The National Portrait Gallery and Freedom Versions v.1 at Stirling Old Town Jail. Calling themselves Blameless, those taking part in The Mural Project are: Fraser Gray, Skint Richie, Rabiya Choudhry, DUFI and Martin McGuinness. Three are from Leith, others from Fife and Inverness.

After raising funds from a variety of sources including the City of Edinburgh Council, Leith Neighbourhood Partnership, Port of Leith Housing Association and Scotmid, the collective set about researching Leith history, meeting with members of local community groups and housing associations, as well as visiting historic spaces such as Trinity House and the SS Explorer, the last steam ship to be registered to Leith, which currently resides at the docks. They also met with Tim Chalk, the original artist who painted the North Junction Street mural, and compared his methodology with theirs, which was surprisingly similar!

The installation of the mural took 8 days: 2 days to prep the pre-existing wall, and 6 days to create the artwork. Which is nautical in theme, with a serene sky and busy sea, intersected by the image of a boat and a sunrise containing various symbols and references to Leith. All of those who were involved embraced the project wholeheartedly and gave their time to what became a labour of love – a new contemporary mural for Leith that will hopefully be around for many years to come. We are all sad to part with it…but it belongs to you now.

P.S. Due to much interest in the mural, Morvern kindly sent us some notes on its symbolism: The mural is a reworking of the Leith Persevere crest depicting a ship sailing across a striped sea. Beneath the sea all is busy, much like life in Leith itself. The lyrics to a Newhaven fishwife’s song, Wha’ll Buy My Caller Herrin’, dip beneath the waves. A toilet seat mirrors the notorious scene from Trainspotting and the Garde Loo boat that used to tip waste into the Forth. A crab, representing the stalwart image of an older Leith, and a gramophone act as a counterbalance to the toilet, nods to the many antique shops and record shops in the area.

More symbols
Tentacles, referring to the urban myths that abound in Leith, swirl up from the depths. Unexploded mines (still present in the Forth today) loom menacingly while a pram referencing the story of Willie Merrilees, a below-stature policeman who once disguised himself as a baby to catch a criminal, bobs by on the tide. A cat at top right, is the only image retained from the original, unfortunately obscured by graffiti…Finally a spaceman’s helmet symbolises the alienation of certain communities within Leith, as well as an absent member of the artists’ collective: Mike Inglis.

INFO: A series of art workshops are due to take place with young people from the local area, in response to the mural’s artwork                                                                                                                                                                                                                           Picture courtesy of Eoin Carey

Web: leithlate.co.uk
Facebook: /LeithLate
Twitter: @leithlate

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