The streets of Gaza provide a canvas for Banksy’s latest work which highlights the Palestinian struggle
Since first garnering mainstream attention, ‘guerrilla’ artist Banksy has become synonymous with the production of subversive and provocative images, often taking aim at the establishment, authority figures and popular culture. While he remains a figure of artistic rebellion for many, others describe his art as glorified vandalism. In recent years he has amassed an army of celebrity fans including Kate Moss and Angelina Jolie, with a number of his works selling at auction in excess of the hundred thousand pound mark. Despite his widespread popularity to date, Banksy has chosen to continue with his anonymity. There has been much speculation as to his true identity, which has further galvanised his status as a radical ‘spray can’ social commentator.
His recent work has seen him return to occupied Palestine, a site he first visited back in 2005, creating a series of works on the West Bank wall. These included an escapist fantasy of a tropical beach peering out from a painted crack in the wall. The canvas for his recent visit comes from the remnants and destruction left over from Israel’s Operation Protective Edge attack in 2014, which caused the destruction of 18,000 Palestinian homes and killed at least 2,000 civilians, almost a quarter of them children. He has created a number of graffiti works on the fragments of buildings and houses still standing – each a narrative of what has come to pass there. They include a kitten playing with a ball of barbed wire, and a group of children on swings attached to an Israeli watchtower. There is even an image that conjures memories of a Greek Goddess or perhaps Rodin’s ‘The Thinker’, now reduced to a weeping woman covering her face. She is both part of the devastated landscape and isolated in her grief. Banksy’s approach embodies the nature of this ongoing conflict and everyday life for the Palestinians: entrapped in a vast concrete prison, under constant surveillance, where children must make do playing among the rubble of the destroyed land. Despite the melancholic tone pervading these pieces there is an overwhelming sense of resilience in the positioning of the new artwork in the region. The children are watched over by these images as they continue to play on the ruins – the most natural form of resistance to their circumstances.
But why has the internationally recognised artist chosen to highlight the Palestinian struggle?
Banksy very often challenges oppression and articulates critical issues through his work. In 2006, his ‘Barely Legal’ exhibition in Los Angeles focused on the problem of world poverty; items on display included a poignant painted ‘elephant in the room’ to symbolise the scale of this neglected global issue. In 2008, he produced an image reading ‘One Nation Under CCTV’ highlighting London as one of the cities most under surveillance in the world. In the same year, an image of children pledging allegiance to a Tesco shopping bag in place of a national flag also appeared in London. The danger of consumerism and mass consumption, particularly in the western world, is an issue he has often returned to in his work. Having left his mark in a number of cities across the world including London and New York, it seems only fitting that an artist whose origins are in street art returns to a place where the external landscape overshadows those living there. The accompanying video posted on his website, a parody of tourist videos advertising exotic locations, opens with ‘Make this the year YOU discover a new destination’, and suggests he is keen to combat misconceptions.
Banksy’s visit to Gaza highlights the experience of ordinary people whose lives have been devastated by the ongoing conflict. They are the ones who have become nameless, faceless numbers briefly mentioned in news reports. By engaging with this conflict directly, Banksy not only reminds us of the ongoing problems and injustices within this territory, but also gives the Palestinian struggle a human face. The short clip ends with the words, ‘If we wash our hands of the conflict between the powerful and the powerless we side with the powerful – we don’t remain neutral’. Therefore to refuse acknowledgement of what is happening in Palestine is tacit compliance with those responsible for their suffering. Through social media platforms Banksy has brought this region, often neglected by mainstream media and the international community, to the attention of his global audience.
Image from: banksy.co.uk
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