Banksy’s visit to the West Bank brought up a string of controversy, on both sides. His art, however, remains appropriately controversial and intriguing.
The self-dubbed “art terrorist” Banksy
The first article in this series, Urban Graffiti as Art: Banksy, looked at the work, in the UK, of the enigma known as the self-dubbed “art terrorist” Banksy.
His art always makes a not-so-subtle social statement. His rats, perhaps, representing the “rat race” of modern society.
To any graffiti artist, an unadorned wall takes on the temptation of an artist’s easel.
When Israel built the controversial 436-mile long security barrier to separate itself from the Palestinian Authority-controlled areas, they might have invited Banksy at the same time!
He is quoted by The Mail Online as saying: “The segregation wall is a disgrace…The possibility I find exciting is that you could turn the world’s most invasive and degrading structure into the world’s longest gallery of free speech and bad art.” A UK television station, Channel 4, ran a news item quoting Banksy’s attitude to the wall: “It turns Palestine into the world’s largest open prison,” and described the wall as “the ultimate Graffiti Artists’ holiday destination.”
So with this large canvas available, Banksy took his “holiday” in 2005.
While probably not the safest place to carry out such a bold undertaking, with his prepared stencils, he probably got away with it because of the speed in which he was able to do it.
Interview with Banksy
On his website Banksy recalled one incident when he was approached by some soldiers:
“Soldier: ‘What the f*** are you doing?’
Banksy: ‘You’ll have to wait ‘til it’s finished.’
Soldier (to colleagues): ‘Safety off…’”
This is only one part of the approximately 6 miles long stretch of the walled section of the security barrier. The remaining is predominantly fencing and creates a border between the Palestinian Authority-controlled areas and Israel as one of the starting points in a workable two-state solution.
What drove him to take the risk of either Palestinian police or Israeli soldiers potentially opening fire?
Rachel Campbell Johnson, an art critic for The Times Online, offers the following explanation, “[The wall is] like a red rag to a bull. You’re going to want to cover it at work. Also, it may be a publicity stunt in away. But to have a politically difficult situation to react against is enormously important for many artists. It gives them something to react against, something to give meaning and importance to their work.”
The Purpose of Banksy Art
Is it merely a publicity stunt? If so, who is the publicity for? For himself? For the existence of the wall, or the people on both sides cut off by the wall?
There will always be issues to debate. Of the wall itself, Israel claims it is a security measure. The Palestinian Authority claims that it is an attempt to grab land.
However, he also recounts that an old man came up to him and told him that he was making the wall look beautiful. Banksy thanked him. The old man replied, “We don’t want it to be beautiful. We hate that wall. Go away.”
The publicity was, however, still appreciated. In 2007, Banksy and several other graffiti artists were invited to produce works in Bethlehem as part of an exhibition.
Through his PR spokeswoman, Banksy said that he hoped the art would “attract tourists to Bethlehem.”
Banksy remains anonymous. The words attributed to him were initially sourced from his website or spokesperson.