It’s easy to get lost in Manchester’s Northern Quarter. Boasting a maze of cafes, indie bars and trinket shops galore, this popular area just off Piccadilly Gardens is lively, fast-paced, and busy from dawn until dusk.
However, if you take a minute to stop in your tracks and step away from the crowd, the Northern Quarter easily transforms into somewhat of an outdoor gallery. Your eyes are in for a treat thanks to the generous amount of murals that take up welcome space on buildings in every corner of this bustling shopping hotspot.
When I first moved to Manchester, I was immediately drawn in by the eclectic colours and patterns that lined the streets of the NQ, and knew that there must be more to these creative works than meets the eye. From that point forward, I made it my mission to find out as much as I could about the meaning behind these pieces. One street art tour and lots of independent research later, I still have a lot to learn. Still, I was pleased to discover that a lot of Manchester’s street art is so much more than just pictures on a wall. Instead, many of these murals represent the city’s history, community and wider social issues.
It would take little short of a novel to delve into the decades of history behind each piece of artwork found in the Northern Quarter, but 2016’s Cities of Hope festival seems like a good enough place to start. This convention united a selection of the world’s most incredible street artists in an effort to raise awareness about an array of social injustices by filling the Northern Quarter with thought-provoking creations. These can still be found throughout the city today, with one of my personal favourites being C215's response to poverty - a subtle portrait of a man smoking a cigarette, located on Tariff Street. Whilst this smaller mural isn’t as grandiose as some of the city’s larger paintings, it has a lot of heart. The eyes of the man in the image are haunting, and force viewers to stop for a minute and think about the pain caused by the never-ending epidemic that is homelessness and inequality.
In fact, inequality is a topic that’s tackled by a lot of the Northern Quarter’s street artists. Tucked away behind the explosive colour of Stevenson’s Square on Little Lever Street is Serenity by art duo SNIK. The towering mural depicts a woman with bare feet, unruly hair and a billowing red dress, and was painted in 2018 to celebrate the 100-year mark since women first gained the right to vote. Suffragettes would gather in Stevenson’s Square during the iconic movement, which makes the mural’s placement significant. This image of hope draws a connection between Manchester’s past and present, and appears to point the way towards a more equal future.
Of course, not all of the Northern Quarter’s street art is locally inspired. Some of the more powerful pieces draw attention to wider societal issues, such as Dale Grimshaw’s mural on Spear Street. The artist’s image of a child in war paint is nothing short of striking, and makes for a pleasant surprise when wandering down the unassuming backstreet. Grimshaw’s portrait pays homage to the Free West Papua movement, in an effort to draw attention to those fighting for their independence from Indonesian occupation.
All in all, the Northern Quarter’s street art taps into the heart and soul of what Manchester really is: a diverse network of individuals with different struggles and backgrounds, who have all come together in one beautiful, vibrant community. Make a dark winter’s day brighter without spending a penny and go art-spotting - you won’t regret it.
You can book a guided tour of Manchester’s street art HERE