‘The right wing find it hard to engage artistically’: Exhibition showcases banners of the left

Banners of protest and revolution go on display at Liberty Hall as part of Mayfest

The well-made banner is as much a part of the iconography of the left as the red flag.

Banners originated during the Industrial Revolution when workers coalesced around a union or a trade association. Even in the digital age, they remain a symbol of protest.

They also defy mass-production as hand-crafted banners are much more durable than ones printed in a shop.

Many of these icons of social and industrial history have gone on display in Liberty Hall as part of the Social Fabric exhibition that runs as part of Mayfest until May 13th.


The banners represent key moments of change in history - from the evolution of the Women's Workers Union in 1911 and the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s to Brexit today.

They portray changing issues throughout Ireland and the United Kingdom, including the Repeal the Eighth movement and wars in regions such as Palestine.

This exhibition, which collects for the first time in one location Irish and UK banners, features the work of British artist Ed Hall who in a 30-year career has created 700 banners.

Five of his banners are on display in Liberty Hall, including one he did for the Connolly Association to mark the centenary of the Easter Rising.

Mr Hall was an architect who joined the union Unison in the 1980s. His collaborations with the artist Jeremy Deller were showcased at the Venice Biennale in 2013.

Although the fascist era produced memorable iconography, it is left that continues to embrace the banner as a symbol of unity.

Mr Hall says the iconography of left-wing banners stems from the Industrial Revolution where banners originated with swags, borders and a grand theme in the middle. “They do seem to have a sort of a template which people are happy with,” he said.

He says it is a puzzle why groups on the right do not seem to be good at producing banners. “We had the Countryside Alliance in Britain, which was a right-wing organisation, but it never produced any great imagery. It never took off in a way that campaigns of the left have managed to do,” he said.

"If you look at Momentum within the Labour Party, that has produced a whole series of writers, musicians, banner makers and theatrical people. I think the left does attract more intellectual people and more artistic people.

“The right wing find it hard to engage artistically. The right works in a slightly different language. You are not going to find young people promoting a modern form of Thatcherism from the artistic world.”

Mr Hall gave a lecture on producing banners to the National College of Art and Design (NCAD) in Dublin during the week.

NCAD’s director of the MA in Design History and Material Culture Lisa Godson said Hall’s banners are unique in that they “exalt every day life rather than a key heroic figure. It’s a vision of a what a proper welfare state looks like.”

* This article was amended on May 9th, 2018 to correct Dr Godson’s title.

Ronan McGreevy

Ronan McGreevy

Ronan McGreevy is a news reporter with The Irish Times