In today’s society, there’s a lot of discourse surrounding art ownership. Does the art belong to the artist once it has been mass-produced and sold in the form of merchandise? Personally, I have always appreciated the anonymous street artist Banksy’s combination of art, politics and dark humour in a form that is frowned upon by the law. The graffiti that Banksy creates is a form of protest against the institutions that restrict expression and freedom, and his latest political showcase is no exception.
Recently, Banksy quite literally destroyed the argument that art can be bought by shredding one of his most famous pieces, Girl With Balloon. This was originally a mural created by Banksy in 2002 in London’s West Bank depicting a girl letting go of a heart shaped balloon. The mural is claimed to be one of Banksy’s most universal pieces of street art as it resonates hope, an emotion that everyone can relate to. More recently, the image has been used to support Syrian refugees, making the artwork ever politically relevant. On 5 October, the mural was auctioned off by Sotheby’s in London and sold for a little over £1 million. Moments after the painting was sold, a hidden shredder built inside of the frame was activated, culminating in the painting being damaged in the auction house. The stunt could be seen to critique how artists lose ownership of their work when it becomes something to be sold, rather than to be enjoyed and understood.
The destruction of the piece doesn’t appear to have negatively affected the price of the artwork; in fact, the new owner of the piece has seen a hefty increase in its value which is now at £1.042 million. Speculators have presented the idea that this political stunt can only have a positive impact upon Banksy’s career; sales will inevitably increase and Banksy will be ever popular in the nation’s eyes. The artist is no stranger to causing controversy as a result of his artwork. He combats many politically important issues through his work. One example of this is Reverse Pat Down: this piece of street art features a young girl patting down the soldier – the role reversal highlights the discourse of pat downs and police brutality.
Pushing boundaries is something that Banksy is famed for and one way he does this is by placing artwork in noteworthy locations. An excellent example of this is Banksy’s Peckham Rock, displaying a caveman scene with a shopping trolley complete with its own information card. The piece first appeared in the British Museum in 2005 and was sat for three days before any staff noticed that it didn’t belong in the exhibit. Currently, Peckham Rock is on loan and back at the British Museum. It is now being featured in Ian Hislop’s exhibition; Hislop claims that his exhibition illustrates tales of satire and subversion, fitting Banksy and his artwork down to a T.
Another aspect of modern society that Banksy appears to critique through his street art is social media and how it impacts the public’s mental health. The Comment Heart Request highlights how social media sites have a massive influence over our lives, how we measure our self-worth and image by depicting like, comment and follow icons in true Instagram-style, together with a child crying because they have none.
Banksy leaves no stone unturned in his work titled A New Meaning, one of his most controversial pieces. Jesus is depicted on the cross but his hands are not empty, they are filled with shopping bags. I believe this piece critiques the Christmas holiday period and how it seems to have lost its original meaning. Society has forgotten that Christmas is a religious holiday and instead focuses on material gain and what to write down on their wish lists.
Banksy reveals the uglier side to modern society in his street art; each new piece of art critiques a different aspect of society, whether it’s social media, materialism or politics. The artist is by no means finished with being controversial in his work and I’m looking forward to the next debate-provoking piece of street art.