Sunday, January 12, 2020

UK: Banksy’s vaunted anti-racism and humanitarianism are absent from his view of Israeli citizens

Alexander Adams @ The Critic (Banksy and the triumph of banality - How the shallow culture warrior hoodwinked a generation)
On October 2019, Banksy’s 2009 painting of Devolved Parliament (showing the House of Commons populated by chimpanzees) sold for a record-setting £9.9 million at auction. Banksy has reached the level of Blue Chip Moderns and Old Masters in auction rooms, books of his art are in museum bookshops worldwide and his street paintings are beloved by ordinary people and tastemakers. For anyone who has looked at his art with a sharp critical eye, the question is: how did such banality hoodwink so many people? […]

Another Banksy trope is irreverent children with paints. For him, children are embodiments of the free spirit of humanity and act as truth-speakers. His children represent hope by undermining authority, disrupting adults’ consumerist assumptions and dissolving walls - specifically the security wall separating Israel from the Palestinian Territories, of which more later. Some pieces are outright jokes, with fake trapdoors painted on the walkways of bridges and walls designated “authorized graffiti area”. Later, more elaborate, pranks included a fake ATM spewing £10 notes with Princess Diana’s image and a telephone box mangled and impaled by a pickaxe. (This latter sold at a charity auction for $605,000.) […]

Banksy deals in clichés of the progressive left. Policemen are thuggish goons or inept clowns serving repressive governments. Graffitists are individualists battling conformity. Old people are bitter conservatives and closet bigots. Children are enlightened seers of truth. Consumerism is deadening; capitalism is exploitation; authority is control. Classic fine art is stuffy and out of touch. With such adolescent attitudes, Banksy’s satire could hardly be anything other than stale. Painting attack helicopters over an English pastoral scene and portraying a Monet pond filled with dumped shopping trolleys is schoolboy stuff.  […]

Yet however rebellious Banksy is depicted, his outlook is locked in unexamined assumptions of his teenage years. Consider his work on the wall around the Palestinian Territories. One interpretation of the West Bank Wall is that it is an aggressive imposition upon the Arab population of Israel, which deprives them of free movement and humiliates them. (“The most politically unjust structure in the world today,” according to the artist.) Another interpretation is that it was a necessary security measure that has curbed the wave of terrorist suicide bombings and knifings of Israelis.

Banksy’s trope of children who represent innocents seeking freedom appears in one image of a girl carried over the wall by a bunch of balloons. Fair enough - but what about the Israeli girls who had to live in daily fear of rocket attacks on their schools, but who are now provided with a little more security by this despised wall? Banksy’s vaunted anti-racism and humanitarianism seems strikingly absent from his view of Israeli citizens.
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Alexander Adams is a British artist and writer. His book Culture War: Art, Identity Politics and Cultural Entryism is published by Societas.

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