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Transcript of Final Banksy
20 May 2010.
“Banksy the Guerilla Artist”:
Integration of Art and Everyday Life
What constitutes a work of art has changed a great deal since the mid-19th century. The
boundary between mass culture and art is increasingly indefinable, blurred, and indivisible.
Artists such as Banksy are cultural negotiators, constantly dissecting the proliferation and
bombardment of mass culture in their own lives and work. We might see the point where art and
society collide as the coming together of “two seemingly separate worlds, that of the artist’s
hermetic seclusion in an ivory tower…and that of the coarse but tonic assault lying outside the
studio door, a world of cafés, newspaper kiosks, billboards, packaged goods…”1 as the point
where art can become, or reflect aspects of everyday life. I will argue that we can understand the
integration of art and everyday life as a reflected in the narratives created by way of Banksy’s
artwork. Banksy’s oeuvre is useful because his graffiti and guerilla artwork, what is often
referred to as ‘low form’, or even ‘anti form’ art embraces a frank resistance to cultural
hierarchies as well as and repressive, socially homogenizing consumerism. His pieces set out to
affect the people—to make them notice the flaws of this society, the irony in their virtues, and
the hypocrisy of their policies. To do this, the art lives amongst the people it is trying to reach
and interacts with them. By showing that these perceptions are brought together within
1 Robert Rosenblum, Cubism as Pop Art in Varnedoe, Kirk, Adam Gopnik, and Museum of Modern Art (New York N.Y.). Modern Art and Popular Culture : Readings in High & Low. New York: Abrams and The Museum of Modern Art, 1990, 117.
guerilla/graffiti art, one can understand Banksy’s oeuvre as evading a categorization as high art
but, rather, as part of everyday life.
I. Defining the Form of Banksy’s Artwork
I do not want to suggest that art can be understood itself as necessarily ingrained in
everyday life; rather, that when it is looked at analytically and critically, it is possible to
understand artwork such as Banksy’s as representative of the way mass culture informs and
inhabits our senses. Before reflecting on Banksy’s art itself, it is necessary to explore the
connection between his art and everyday life, and to establish graffiti, the silhouette, and guerilla
art as ‘everyday’ art forms.
II. Graffiti and the Silhouette
Graffiti is the plural form of the Italian word grafficar that signifies drawings, scribbles,
or messages that are painted, written, or carved onto a wall or surface. Contemporary graffiti art
originated in the late 1960s, and has been developing ever since. Graffiti art is not readily
accepted as being art akin to that found in a gallery or a museum. It is not denied the status of
genuine art merely? because of a lack of form or other base aesthetic elements. Most of the
opposition to graffiti as art is due to its location and bold, unexpected, and unconventional
presentation. Banksy recognizes the controversy of graffiti but recognizes that “despite what they
say, graffiti is not the lowest form of art…it’s actually one of the most honest art forms available.
There is no elitism or hype, it exhibits on the best wall a town has to offer and nobody is put off
by the price of admission.”2 Graffiti is of interest aesthetically for its fusion of multiple styles
drawn from mass culture and from more specific ethnic traditions. Easily accessible to everyday
people, Graffiti disrespects private property and official notions of order and aesthetics in the
course of appropriating walls for the display of each writer's own expressions of style.2 Banksy, Wall and Piece, 8
Banksy’s street art method combines “graffiti writing with a distinctive stenciling
technique,” to create a graphic silhouette.3 Although silhouettes generally remain associated with
simple European portraiture and not graffiti, they are valuable because of their simplicity and
‘cheapness.’ Silhouettes are also important for a spectator’s quick recognition and interpretation
of the art. With the silhouette, “nothing is obscured by irrelevant lines…no figure-ground
organization is necessary, nor is any special set required by the observer.”4 Some of Banksy’s
works include: a tank with a megaphone on top, a religious icon with a halo circling a gun, and
the iconic Che Guevara image repeated but slowly melting away. These images are always bold
and eye catching, appealing graphic art for the masses, but the combination of conflicting
elements establish critical narratives that identify current conditions. Therefore, the silhouettes
used in Banksy’s art increase his works’ connection with everyday life by making the works
accessible to the average viewer.
III. Guerilla Art
Finally, Banksy’s guerilla art integrates the everyday not only because of the image but
its location, which adds meaning when recognizing nearby landmarks or historical events.
Banksy has artwork in the south that relates to racial issues, and a statement piece at Disneyland
that reflects on Guantanamo bay. These images are eye-opening and make a strong statement
about human establishments. By making these images public they are unavoidable and often
shocking considering the circumstances, whether it be the location or the subject. Banksy’s
artwork creates “emotional disorientation” in “real” situations. They do unconventional things to
confuse and awaken people to “reality.”5
3 Hatty Copemant, "Where's Banksy?" suite101, http://artsociety.suite101.com/article.cfm/wheres-banksy.4 Miriam E Crowley, "A Puzzle-Picture in Silhouette," The American Journal of Psychology,no. 65 (1952),
5 Guy Debord, Theory Of The Derive. Barcelona: Actar/Museum Of Contemporary Art, Barcelona, 1997.
IV. The Girl with a Bomb
The Banksy piece, The Girl with a Bomb integrates the artist’s use of silhouette and
graffiti (fig. 1). The image is a stencil applied with spray paint on a whitewashed brick wall on
London’s Brick Lane first seen in January 2004. The image is of a girl in her teens hugging a
bomb affectionately. When considering the location Banksy chose to graffiti, the image takes on
a whole new meaning. Brick Lane is filled with Anglo-Indian curry houses that are run by
Muslims. The heart in bright red above the girl’s head leads to the interpretation that the girl has
feelings of affection for the nuclear warhead. The piece uses two different colors of paint, but by
using shading and the white of the wall behind the piece, a level of depth is attained. The girl is
painted mostly white, except for the back of her sweater and her hair. Using a stencil also
allowed Banksy to create a fair amount of detail around the eyes and facial features. The image
of the girl is familiar and resembles an old 1950’s poster or advertisement. Take for example the
recognizable image of the Breck girl (fig 2). This familiarity gives the painting a homely,
comfortable feeling by relating it to an era where America was in its prime, economically and
socially. The narrative created around the innocent girl is in strong contrast to the bomb that she
is embracing so tenderly. The bomb is completely black with slight white shading at the far right
side. The bomb, generally depicted as symbol of destruction and chaos, should not be something
that a child is clinging to like a favorite teddy bear. Girl Holding a Bomb is an eerie affirmation
of the direction in which this world is heading. Considering the works location at the heart of
London’s Muslim community; this piece speaks volumes about the place that war and terror are
taking in our lives. The image is of a recognizably Caucasian girl hugging a bomb: based on its
location one might expect the girl to be Muslim, or Bangladeshi. However, the piece subverts
stereotypes and speaks directly to the people at the heard of the worries and concerns of an ever-
V. Inflatable Doll Dressed as Guantanamo Bay Detainee
Banksy’s installation of an inflatable doll dressed as a Guantanamo bay detainee in
Disneyland is inscribed with a complex mesh of politico-cultural significations (Fig 3). These
significations are magnetized and brought to the surface through Banksy’s provocative guerilla
gesture of installing the Guantanamo detainee within a site that is charged with an iconic cultural
status. Disneyland “is a key American place-marker, an icon,” whose aim is to “soothe and
reassure.”6 With close to fifteen million visitors in 2006, Banksy’s installation is visible to many
everyday people who frequent the site.7 Banksy’s Guantanamo detainee ruptures the narrative
flow of Disneyland in order to bring into sharp focus the possibility that an entertainment theme
park, Disneyland, is politically and culturally connected to its absolute other, Guantanamo Bay.
In the context of Disneyland’s landscape of reassurance, with its ordered disposition of things,
Banksy’s figure presents a breach that imports the evils of the outside world into the quarantined
space. In particular, the piece was installed in Disneyland’s ‘Frontierland.’ As a narratalogical
construct, Frontierland bespeaks a story of heroic pioneers carving civilization out of a wild and
savage wilderness. Banksy’s startling insertion of the contemporary figure, that iconically
signifies the violent prerogatives of empire and its attendant impunities, tears the seamless flow
of the historical scene in question. Furthermore, the installation is able to integrate art and the
everyday through a short video released on YouTube that tracked in detail the process of making
and installing his Guantanamo doll. Not only does this make the installation more accessible, but
it also encourages others to do the same thing.
6 K.A. Marling, "Imagineering the Disney Theme Parks," In Designing Disney's Theme Parks. Paris & New York: Flammarion, 2006, pg. 83.
7 "Themed Entertainment Association/ Economics Research Associates' Attraction Attendance Report." Thorburn Associates, http://www.themeit.com/attendance_report2007.pdf.
Throughout the Twentieth Century there are ongoing efforts to integrate art and everyday
life. Through the symbolically defiant style of graffiti and guerilla art, Banksy fights against the
construction of social, political, and economic authority that gives voices only to a very limited
and partial group of people. His work goes beyond simply acknowledging the average person,
and expects them to participate and ask questions. His witty, controversial, and poignant images
not only successfully challenge these repressive phenomena, but they also enforce the need for
the freedom of equal expression. As Banksy so eloquently puts it: “It takes a lot of guts to stand
up anonymously in a western democracy and call for things no-one else believes in – like peace
and justice and freedom.”8 True to his words, Banksy’s art resists the ironically established
discrimination and inequality our society faces, and exalts the average people who form its core.
8 Banksy. Wall and Piece: Random House UK, 2005.
Fig 3: Banksy, Inflatable Doll Dressed as Guantanamo Bay Detainee
Fig 2: Breck Girl
Fig 1: Banksy, The Girl With a Bomb
Banksy. "Girl with a Bomb." London, 2004.Banksy. "Inflatable Doll Dressed as Guantanamo Bay Detainee." Disneyland, 2007.