Love is in the Air (2003)
Love is in the Air (2003)

“Internationally known, identity unknown”, the artist Banksy has been creating controversy on the walls of the world. I was recently in Washington D.C. where ‘The Art of Banksy: The Unauthorised Collection’ was displayed at Gallery Place located in Chinatown. I felt lucky to be able to view over 130 inimitable pieces of the famously elusive street artist’s works, which have historically addressed police brutality, political tensions, climate change, consumerism and Brexit. Banksy is a known anti-capitalist, even though his pieces sell for millions and the artworks exhibited at this gallery may not otherwise have been available to the public.

Besides his stencil work, album covers for bands and early versions of his most famous works, such as Girl with Balloon, a few quotes of the artist were also highlighted in the exhibition. They included, “The art world is the biggest joke going. It’s a rest home for the over-privileged, the pretentious and the weak”, “Nobody ever listened to me until they didn’t know who I was”, and “In the future everyone will be anonymous for 15 minutes.”

One could see why Banksy’s provocative stencils are among the most iconic, and considered controversial, both for his political messages and for the placement of his street art, which some public officials have called vandalism. According to Banksy, the people who truly deface neighbourhoods are the companies that scrawl giant slogans across walls, buildings and buses trying to make people feel inadequate unless they buy their products.

He first sprayed the walls of Bristol (where he is said to have been born in 1974) in the southwest of England in the early 1990s, but his fame soared after he moved to London in the early 2000s.

Enthusiasts around the world can get a glimpse of Banksy’s provocative artwork through a touring exhibit showing over 130 pieces produced by the famously elusive artist

When he was 18, Banksy spent one night trying to paint “LATE AGAIN” in big silver bubble letters on the side of a passenger train. This excerpt from his bestselling book, Wall and Piece (2005), explaining why he uses stencils was displayed on one of the walls of the exhibition: “British transport police showed up and I got ripped to shreds running away through a thorny bush. I spent over an hour hidden under a dumper truck with engine oil leaking all over me. As I lay there listening to the cops on the tracks, I realised I had to cut my painting time in half or give up altogether…”

CND Soldiers (2003)
CND Soldiers (2003)

One of Banksy’s famous pranks was between 2003 and 2005, when he infiltrated several well-known museums, including the Tate Britain, National History Museum and the Louvre, where he hung embellished oil paintings. His Peckham Rock also drew chuckles from visitors. It is a supposedly prehistoric figure pushing a shopping cart. He placed it in The British Museum in 2005. Accompanied by an authentic looking information label, it took three days before anyone realised something was not right.

However, Banksy played what could be one of the most audacious stunts in art history by arranging for one of his best-known works, a framed version of Girl with Balloon, depicting a young girl with her hand extended toward a red heart-shaped balloon carried away by the wind, to self-destruct moments after the closing bid in an auction for just over one million pounds. This was done by means of a hidden mechanical paper shredder that Banksy had built into the frame bottom. The shredded artwork was given a new title, Love is in the Bin, and re-appeared at an auction at Sotheby’s in 2021, where it was sold for £18.6 million.

Girl with Balloon (2018)
Girl with Balloon (2018)

Besides cultural collaborations, Banksy also uses his work to support worthwhile causes. For example, in 2002 he was commissioned by Greenpeace for the ‘Save or Delete’ campaign to highlight the problems of deforestation.

This was a unique show to go through, where each exhibit proved that Banksy is undeniably among the most famous artists living today. In July, 2019, the anonymous graffiti artist was voted Britain’s favourite artist, beating Leonardo da Vinci, Pablo Picasso and Claude Monet to the title! His art is a welcome reminder of the powerful potential of street art.

‘The Art of Banksy:
The Unauthorised Collection’ was hosted at the Gallery Place, Washington DC, United States from June 23-August 21, 2022.
Do check online for where the exhibit will travel to next

Published in Dawn, EOS, September 11th, 2022

Opinion

Editorial

More leaks
Updated 29 Sep, 2022

More leaks

Recent leaks look more like an inside job than the work of a foreign power.
A depressing winter
29 Sep, 2022

A depressing winter

WINTER is on its way, with a massive gas crunch looming as elevated global LNG prices have eroded the cash-strapped...
Great expectations
29 Sep, 2022

Great expectations

CONSIDERING that the Afghan Taliban have been in the saddle for over a year now, the UN has expressed frustration...
The whole truth
28 Sep, 2022

The whole truth

THE war on truth has never been more relentless than it is today. Authoritarianism is on the rise and purveyors of...
Real-world trolls
Updated 28 Sep, 2022

Real-world trolls

It's reprehensible how PTI supporters now seem convinced that politicians from opposing camps aren't entitled to basic dignity.
Islamabad wildlife
28 Sep, 2022

Islamabad wildlife

PRESERVING biodiversity is low on the list of priorities of both state and society. However, successful attempts at...