Jan 31st, 2024, 02:57 PM

The World According to Banksy

By Sophia Weiss-Goldner
Replica of "CND Soldiers" - Banksy (2005) displayed at Musée Banksy. Image Credit: Sophia Weiss-Goldner
Satire Meets Street Art

Amidst the art world lies a great mystery about the anonymous identity of the contentious street artist Banksy. His first known work of street art, titled The Mild Mild West depicts a teddy bear throwing a weapon at police officers in riot gear. The stenciled spray paint piece appeared on a Bristol, UK building in 1999. Since then, the pseudonymous Banksy has created over 100 original street artworks in London, Paris, New York, and Los Angeles. Banksy's graffiti features anti-war, anti-capitalist, and anti-establishment propaganda. Though there is great controversy surrounding the existence of Banksy’s art, the anonymous artist has accumulated a net worth of over 50 million dollars in revenue from auctioning off his masterpieces of provocative street art. There have been decades-long disputes and speculations over uncovering the man behind the spray can, yet Banksy’s real identity remains one of the most intriguing mysteries in the art world. Banksy's masterful graffiti made wall art recognized as a legitimate source of artistic expression in the eyes of the art world. The web of clever creativity and provocative political messages made the anonymous street artist rise to fame. Though, not everyone recognizes Banksy as a real artist. 


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The Girl and Balloon - Banksy (2002)

World-recognized art critic and scholar Brian Sewell calls Banksy a phony and labels his art "childish rubbish" that should be banned from all existence. In contrast, author and art scholar Hellen Weaver considers Banksy's art "politically inspiring" and "artistically witty." There are obvious disparities in how art critics perceive Banksy, but that does not stop him from creating art worldwide. Today, Banksy's culturally provocative street art can be found on the streets of Prague, London, Paris, Barcelona, and Bethlehem. 

At the heart of the 9th arrondissement in Paris, Museé Banksy is a permanent art exhibition showcasing "The World According to Banksy." Within the artistic concrete walls of the exhibit, there are installation replicas of Banksy’s most astounding works of street art. As you walk through the exhibit, you journey through time and space. The museum's interior design creates an intimate connection between the viewer and the artwork. Each replica of his work tells a story about a political and socialistic culture that occurred throughout various epochs of his career. Notably, CND Soldiers illustrates two soldiers fully dressed in combat gear standing in battle with a bloodied, broken peace sign dripping in the background. Bansky utilizes his art as a weapon to protest against acts of war and violence.

Additionally, on the museum's second floor, there is a fragmented reproduction of Banksy’s arguably most controversial and complicated work of art. The Walled Off Hotel is a fully operating hotel in Bethlehem created and owned by Banksy. Decorated within the hotel's walls sits an array of original art pieces that showcase his satirical expressions of the Palestine and Israel conflict. Palestinian and Israeli in a Pillow Fight showcases a Palestinian man engaging in a vicious pillow fight. The painting ruffled feathers in art critics. Banksy's critics accuse him of exploiting Palestinians and profiting off of their suffering. In typical Banksy fashion, he responded to the criticism by claiming that he did not affiliate himself or his art with any political party and refused to make any further commentary on the topic. Next to the wall painting, is a small silver plaque with bold black lettering that reads, "Banksy does not affiliate with any political party or pressure group." That is the only statement Banksy has ever made on the topic. 


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Palestinian and Israeli in a Pillow Fight - Banksy (2017) 

Towards the beginning of his career, Banksy famously stated, “Theft is bringing street art inside and then charging an admission fee.” Today, admission to the World of Banksy in Paris costs sixteen euros. The other Banksy-based museums, located in London, Prague, Stockholm, and Barcelona, charge anywhere from fifteen to twenty-five euros for admission. Charging people to view Banksy’s street art is a juxtaposition that goes against his previous statement. This is just one of the plethora of ironies that exist within the wide world of Banksy. Even though most of Banksy's art criticizes the commercialization of art and consumerism, he benefits immensely from commercialized art. For every Banksy poster, tote bag, or postcard sold, a significant portion of the proceeds contribute to his own financial success. Despite being outspokenly against capitalism and consumer society, Banksy has silently accumulated his notable wealth from selling his commercialized art.

It is important to note that Banksy has dedicated some of his time and wealth to various charities. Over his thirty-year career as an acclaimed street artist, Banksy has raised over $30 million for different charities worldwide. Some of the many organizations Banksy has contributed to are Greenpeace, Help Refugees, and Help for the Homeless. Beyond street art, Banksy is a humanitarian who brings awareness to important causes and helps the less fortunate in many ways. 

Whether you love or hate him, Banksy is one of the most famous street artists of the century. His work of stenciled street art is known for being politically provocative and wrapped in witty satire. Banksy uses art to critique authority, challenge social normalities, and address critical global issues. The messages conveyed within his art, and the actions he's taken to volunteer at different charities humanize him as someone who cares deeply about the state of the world outside of his own life. While his identity remains anonymous, his distinctive artistic style and witty slogans are easily recognizable no matter what street it is on. The world of Banksy revolves around playful metaphors for seriousness and often violent global conflicts. Banksy's art provokes the viewer to think about humanity outside of themselves and hope to live in a more peaceful world one day. His legacy lives through his playful aesthetic and undeniable wit. Though he is an artist tangled up in juxtapositions and moral questioning, his art sparks meaningful conversations and brings attention to dire global issues. Anonymous Banksy may be one of the greatest mysteries of the art world. Still, his distinctive, ironic tongue-in-cheek style and humanitarianism make him one of the most culturally influential street artists in history.