Put Ulster's murals in the Tate

Although, as Danny Devenny says, the imagery of loyalist murals "reflects their insecurity" ("The long drawn-out struggle", The Back Half, 26 June), what loyalist imagery excels at is postmodern pastiche. While republican murals are largely representational, dwelling on the Easter Rising, the hunger strikes and Bloody Sunday, loyalist murals seem more in tune with the zeitgeist in their use of imitation and bricolage.

One particularly menacing loyalist image is that of a ragged, skeletal soldier bearing a Union Jack in the aftermath of a battle, with the Grim Reaper in the background. The two versions of this mural found in Belfast and Londonderry are replications of a painting by Derek Riggs, which, as all good heavy-metal fans know, adorned the front cover of the 1983 Iron Maiden single "The Trooper".

Similarly, the old motto of UDA flags, "Quis Separabit", now jostles for space with "Simply the Best", a tribute, no doubt, to Tina Turner's hit of 1989. Meanwhile, a mural on King's Road, Belfast, which showed Jerry, the mouse in loyalist band member's uniform, threatening Tom, the republican cat in a Celtic top, paid tribute to that much celebrated Warner Brothers cartoon. And a sign adorning a telegraph post in Ballymena showed Bart Simpson as a loyalist treading on the neck of Gerry Adams, portrayed as a rat.

It is not an absolute trend. Themes of the Somme, King Billy and hooded gunmen remain popular with loyalists, while postmodern cultural appropriation has found its way into republican imagery (see the mural in Rossville Street, Londonderry, which borrowed from Edvard Munch, urging Sinn Fein voters to "Give Them That Screamin' Feeling"). Nonetheless, I think that some of these loyalist murals should appear at the Tate Modern. They would stand as interesting examples of how imitation and the skill of parody have been appropriated into fields outside art and entertainment. The IRA, like Tracey Emin and Steve McQueen, has done nothing useful since Duchamp, and seems modernist and predictable. The UFF, conversely, would give any Andy Warhol or Roy Lichtenstein a run for its money in the pastiche stakes.

Patrick West
London W6

This article first appeared in Education, education, profit

2000-07-10