OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAReview: Invisible Barriers: Moving Images (A Draw-Down-The-Walls project)
by Sophie AUMAILEY for Northern Ireland Foundation
12 September 2016

In 2015, a partnership of several community associations asked the artist Zhenia Mahdi-Nau to create a short-films project, featuring experiences of marginalised groups.

The project, entitled “Invisible Barriers: Moving Images”, focuses on life events of groups and barriers they face, which may be obvious or not.

“Invisible Barriers: Moving Images” was one of seven Creative Belfast projects funded by Belfast City Council and the Arts Council of Northern Ireland through the Creative and Cultural Belfast Fund.

It concentrates on groups from North Belfast’s deprived areas, working with North Belfast Interface Network, Lower Shankill Community Association and Golden Thread Gallery.

The result is impressively powerful.

They produced five short films presenting daily life and struggles of community members.

These movies are currently presented in the Woodstock Library during opening hours, along with an explanatory presentation book of the project.

The calm atmosphere of the library allows exploring these vivid short films.

The first movie presented, called “Along the Line”, shows the the challenges that residents of Lower Shankill have to deal with in their area.

Stereotyping and labels weigh upon the lives of residents.

Peace lines in the area reinforce the feeling of marginalisation and exclusion, leading to mental health issues and lack of confidence.

Residents feel they are not judged according to who they are, but for where they live. As one explained, “I’m being stigmatised no matter where I go, what I do.”

The second movie, “Copies”, shows how, since 2002, the R2W (Right to Welfare) Campaign is fighting, with support from Belfast City Council, to promote human rights and access to welfare for everyone.

The strength of this movie is to give a voice to an otherwise unheard of section of our society.

As one of the campaigners said, “People have the right to live, not just exist.”;  promoting a decent life for all seems crucial to develop better communities.

The third movie, “Intern 3”, concentrates on barriers faced by young people in the workplace.

Following the hard experiences of one intern, the film deals with the symbolic violence of verbal abuse and harassment.

Indeed, you feel the isolation and loneliness of the intern and the impact of such bad working conditions he endured.

The fourth movie, called “The Carcass among Us”, features the stereotyped North Belfast resident.

As in the first movie, people explained being stereotyped by the place they live in.

The bad reputation, bad image of North Belfast impacts on their way of life.

What is striking about their testimonies is that North Belfast seems to be a deprived area where no policies are made to change the way it is.

That is, there is residential housing development, but no park, no communal areas, nothing to develop community relations.

Residents spoke about their frustration of seeing a particular vacant building, where communal and youth-based projects could be developed.

They feel that desire is missing from politicians to make the most of the opportunities to create better community relations.

The last movie, entitled “The Wall”, displays the impact of peace lines on the daily life of residents.

Strong emotions are associated with peace walls, with depression and a high suicide rate.

There are worries for the next generations, as peace lines themselves do not tackle segregation.

Indeed, all these five movies illustrate the persistence of segregation in Belfast.

Visible and invisible barriers impact the will of communities to develop alternative ways of life and more integration.

The emphasis of the project on human rights of freedom and decent life reminds us the importance of working in collaboration with people and communities in transforming conflict.

As one resident said, they should not be thought of by where they live or their pasts: “Not Catholic, not Protestant; we are all human.”

The films are available to watch online.

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