Rickshaw by Banksy is an example of how the artist explores graffiti art to make statements about capitalism and salient social issues. Image: Banksy
Who is Banksy? This is one mystery many people have been trying to unravel for many years. From the United States to the United Kingdom, the question has always been “Who is Banksy?” Banksy’s ambiguity seems to have continued to propel this graffiti artist, who is well-known for his street and graffiti art, to create even more exciting artworks. Shrouded in anonymity, Banksy travels from city to city, state to state and country to country creating funny and highly political artworks.
Many of Banksy’s street and graffiti art are very poignant and address topical issues of our time. From migration to poverty, capitalism, war, and liberty, Banksy has created artworks to address them all. Some of his artworks are very critical of government’s actions against their people and the inhuman treatment of others. A recent example of one of his thought provoking works is Jungle.
Located in Calais, the French port city where thousands of newly arrived Syrian refugees are living in absolute squalor, Jungle features the late Apple founder Steve Jobs. Jobs, the son of a Syrian migrant, who arrived in America after the second world war went on to make a remarkable difference in the lives of people with his innovative Apple products. Jobs is depicted in his trademark blue jeans, black polo neck sweater, and round glasses. With a black bin bag thrown over one shoulder and an original Apple computer in another hand, Banksy situates Jobs identity and achievement in the center for the rights of migrants and refugees. With this work, Banksy not only advanced the call for rights of migrants and refugees but also debunks the notion by anti-immigrant and anti-refugee advocates who contend that immigrants are parasites on their host nations.
Although Banksy has become famous and notorious at the same time, he continues to create his street and graffiti art on walls or space he could find. He is fearless and will always express his thoughts through his street and graffiti art no matter where he finds himself. While in Palestine in 2012, Banksy created several works on the West Bank Wall, a barrier dividing Palestine and Israel. The artworks drew attention to the plight of Palestinians and their sufferings. Many Palestinians who earn their living on the other side of the barrier have to go through dehumanizing experiences just to earn a livelihood. One of Banksy’s artworks addressed this tense relationship between Israelis and Palestinians.
Banksy’s street and graffiti art on the West Bank Wall address the tensions between Israel and Palestine and a dubious peace process. With titles like Armored Dove of Peace, West Bank Guard: Window on the West Bank, Unwelcome Intervention, Balloon Debate, Cut It Out, and several others, Banksy critical examined the relationship between Israel and its suffering neighbor. Couched in humor, the artworks generated attention for the plight of the Palestinians and the never ending conflict between the two nations.
Believed to have been born in Bristol in 1974, Banksy started creating street and graffiti art at a very young age. Motivated by the Bristol Underground Scene, Banksy used stencil and graffiti to create artworks that have captivated many across the globe. From a rather simple beginning, Banksy has grown to become a big star in the global art scene. His artworks continue to be exhibited in museums and galleries across the globe. The most recent is War, Capitalism & Liberty at the Palazzo Cipolla in Rome.
Banksy has achieved a lot in his rather short art career. His exhibition at the Bristol Museum and Art Gallery in 2009 attracted more than 300,000 people, making it one of the most attended shows that year. Banksy has also been commissioned to create artworks for magazine covers and record sleeves. His documentary Exit Through The Gift Shop got an Oscar nomination.
Banksy’s first solo exhibition was held in 2006. Titled Barely Legal, the exhibition was held in a warehouse in downtown Los Angeles. The show became the talk of the town soon after it opened. It attracted celebrities including Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie, Cameron Diaz, Jude Law and Dennis Hopper among many others. The exhibition featured some unusual artworks, including an elephant painted in red and gold. There was also a SWAT Van on which Banksy painted heavily armed Special Forces agents being hoodwinked by a small boy. The van sold for US$ 293,501) inc. premium recently.
Many times, Banksy has found himself on the other side of the law. His recent workshop in New York put him at crosshair with police who were ready to arrest him for vandalism. Even as fans were eager to see his new creations, the New York Police Department was on his heels determined to arrest him for vandalism. This is the nature of Banksy’s effort to actualize his artistic thoughts.
The struggle to arrest Banksy for vandalism is not just a New York experience. In London where he has made a name for himself, the police are always one step close to arresting him. In 2015, London’s Metropolitan Police arrested someone they thought was Banksy. They came to the conclusion it was Banksy after hours of questioning and a raid of his London art studio. He was arrested with other four other artists while in the middle of finishing a piece about a mascot for a Christian organization named Fappy The Anti-Masturbation Dolphin. He was charged with vandalism, conspiracy, racketeering, and counterfeiting. Elated as London’s Metropolitan Police was about the arrest, many people continue to contend that they arrested the wrong person. “That is not Banksy,” a fan said.
Even as the effort to arrest Banksy continues, the quest to unveil his true identity is unrelenting. Early this year, the elusive artist was tagged through a mathematical analysis. The analysis claims to have identified Banksy as Robin Gunningham. The conclusion was made after a team led by Steven Le Comber at the Queen Mary University in London analyzed 140 artworks by the notorious artist in London and Bristol using geographic profiling. The “geoprofile” analysis identified several places, including a pub, an address in Bristol and three others in London where Gunningham has lived or appeared. Since Banksy does not sign his artworks, the ones used in this analysis are those that he is suspected of creating.
The mathematical method of analysis has been used to identify criminals, and can also help determine the origin of infectious disease out breaks. Although the Banksy work analysis was supposed to appear in the Journal of Spatial Science, it was halted after Banksy’s lawyers contacted the authors of the study. It later appeared online.
While the team at Queen Mary University contends that the same process could be used as a model to locate potential terrorism suspects, the liking of Banksy’s work to ‘minor terrorism-related act’ was a major bone of contention for the critics of the analysis.
Although Banksy’s works can be witty, they are also extremely political and thought provoking. He has not only used his work to address the issues of war, he has raised questions about capitalism and ostentatious way of life. Even though his works are attracting six figures at auction, he is very critical of those who pay so much money to buy works of art. As he noted in one of his works highlighting an auction: “I Can’t Believe You Morons Actually Buy This Shit.”
Banksy continues with his critique of capitalism, ostentation, and oppression with Rickshaw. The piece depicts a couple sitting in a rickshaw whispering sweet nothing in each other’s ears. Pulling the rickshaw is a small boy using all his might to ensure the couple is comfortable. While the couple smile as they take selfies on their cell phones, the boy pulls the rickshaw with pain writing all over his face. On one level, this piece points to child labor, while on another, it symbolizes the exploitation of third and poor nations by Western nations. The couple who are evidently Westerns are nonchalant about the pain of the poor boy getting crushed by their weight.
Notorious as Banksy is, he can be described as a philanthropist. In many instances, he has created and donated works to help charity organizations raise money for their projects. In 2014 while in New York for a residency, Banksy opened a stall around Central Park selling his art. Unaware the works were original Banksy, many people walked by. The very few that bought some of the works became rich. Two of the artworks bought from the stall at $60 a piece sold for $215, 000 at Bonhams Auctions
Artcentron celebrates Banksy not just because of his creativity, but also because of his ability to address important social issues. Even at the danger to his own life, Banksy continues to create street and graffiti art that bring awareness to issues many people are unwilling to address. In the process of actualizing his thoughts, he has made many people rich. Many of his graffiti art on street corners and walls have found their ways to auctions, making the owners very rich. Banksy does not seem to mind that the artworks he created for public consumption are been removed and sold for huge sums at auction. His ability to navigate capitalism and art is noteworthy.