John Boland's week in TV: Forget the Renaissance – street art will change the way you view life

Did you know that in recent years “our world has been shaken and transformed by the arrival of street art”? I certainly didn’t and nor did I know that this art form is having “a profound influence on who we are and what we believe”.

Furthermore, I was unaware that this is “the vastest art movement that’s ever happened” and indeed is apparently more significant in its impact “than the Renaissance”.

These revelations came at the outset of Wonder Walls: The Story of Irish Street Art (RTÉ2), the first two from narrator MayKay and the last from a street artist who, MayKay informed me, is now “a global brand”.

He goes by the moniker Maser but you can call him Al if you wish because that’s his real name, though, as he said himself, he opted for Maser because “Al couldn’t do a lot of things that Maser could do” – like painting a giant ‘Repeal the 8th’ public mural in the run-up to the abortion referendum, which Dublin City Council then painted over, thus providing further publicity for his global brand.

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The film also introduced us to other practitioners of street art, which is not to be confused with the sometimes inventive and often dangerously executed graffiti that you can see along railway lines or in death-defying tunnels.

For one thing, the newer street artists, or at least the ones who were being exalted here, have loftier goals, whether social, sexual or political – Holly Pereira, whose father was from Singapore, is preoccupied with “the idea of identity”, while wondering how far she could go with spray paint’s ability “to make comments and messages about social issues”.

In her previous artworks, not intended for street consumption, there’d been “a lot about blood and periods and vaginas” but she “wouldn’t necessarily put that on a wall”. This left her fretting, “Do I dampen down my work to make it palatable for everybody? It’s a dichotomy.” Or maybe just a dilemma.

Most of the other interviewed artists were similarly earnest in their espousal of art as a way of making public statements, none of them showing any interest in the notion of it being somehow separate from social or political agendas, with no need to justify itself for reasons other than its own creation.

But on the evidence of this entirely uncritical film, public art is mainly about sloganeering and, though some of the examples shown here were genuinely arresting, it was hard to disagree with the Australian tourist (the only dissenting voice allowed) who, gazing at one giant Dublin mural, worried that once public art “gets out of hand, I think it becomes more of an eyesore and just looks kind of trashy”.

After the extravagant claims being made in a film that took itself far too seriously, it was nice to watch a documentary that was intent on having a bit of fun with its subject, and this is what In League with Gaddafi (RTÉ1) provided in a droll retelling of how a motley crew of Irish footballers came to be playing against a team in Libya.

The year was 1989 and Charlie Haughey was doing beef export deals with Libya’s dictator, despite the fact that Gaddafi, who was regarded as a terrorist pariah in the West, had been selling arms by the crateload to the Provisional IRA.

Enter football manager Brian Kerr, who was invited to take a League of Ireland team, consisting of players from Bohemians and St Patrick’s Athletic, who had just been knocked out of the first round of the FAI Cup, to Libya for a friendly against one of the country’s main sides.

“It may not have been the brightest thing anyone ever did in football,” Kerr recalled, but they went anyway, and there were vivid recollections from the players, most of whom had been holding down outside jobs while playing “for a few bob at the end of the week”.

There were good anecdotes, too, from journalist Eamonn McCann, who had been interviewing Gaddafi in Libya, and overall Kevin Brannigan’s film made for a lively and evocative 50 minutes. The Libyan pitch, incidentally, had been in a shocking state, Kerr remembering that it resembled a “green carpet that may have been in the Gresham Hotel during the 1916 Rising”.

Prime Time Rewind: The Disappearance of Deirdre Jacob (RTÉ1) retold the distressing story of the 18-year-old Newbridge girl who was last seen returning home on a July afternoon in 1998. Her vanishing was updated to a murder enquiry in August 2018, with one focus on convicted rapist Larry Murphy, now apparently living in England.

Yet though the contributions by her father, mother and younger sister were eloquent and poignant, as were the recollections of her three best friends, I was puzzled why the film was being shown now in the run-up to Christmas, as it marked no significant anniversary and as no new facts were being offered.

Elizabeth Is Missing (RTÉ1), based on Emma Healey’s bestselling novel, featured an astonishing performance in the lead role from the 83-year-old Glenda Jackson.

Jackson won lead actress Oscars in 1970 for Women in Love and in 1973 for A Touch of Class and had also excelled in Sunday Bloody Sunday (1971), The Romantic Englishwoman (1975) and Stevie (1978), but had been a Labour politician for most of her later life and had been junior transport minister in Tony Blair’s first government.

Here, though, she was back again, playing a woman suffering from dementia and doing so with a fierceness and fearlessness that were mesmerising.

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