Updated: Oct 29, 2020
Political activist, street artist, vandal, or genius? The many facets that characterize the “Banksy phenomenon” are constantly under the judgment of public opinion since the artist started his or her career in the ‘90s. Banksy’s satirical works combine dark humor with graffiti and are always displayed on visible surfaces such as walls, portable toilets, banknotes, and buildings. His success can be attributed to the simple yet striking visual language that link benevolent characters, often children or workers, to controversial scenarios. The following list of artworks will try to shed some light on this artist.
THE MILD MILD WEST
The Mild Mild West mural at 80 Stokes Croft, 1999, Bristol; Image by www.pinterest.com
The first notable mural of the England-based artist produced in 1999. A fluffy teddy bear on the right carries a Molotov cocktail and approaches three police officers carrying riot shields. The piece is inspired by an episode that happened in Bristol, Banksy’s hometown, where law enforcement officers attacked partygoers. Ironically titled “Mild Mild West,” probably referring to the geographical position of the city, the artwork embodies the socially-engaged attitude of the artist and his or her anti-establishment nature.
GIRL WITH A BALLOON
Girl with a Balloon on the wall of Waterloo Bridge, 2002, London; Image by www.pinterest.com
First appearing on the wall of Waterloo Bridge in London, the “Girl with a Balloon” has become an international symbol of hope. We can’t determine whether the red, heart-shaped balloon is flying away from the child or approaching her, but this incredibly thought-evoking piece has touched many people. The work is accompanied by the words “There is always hope,” which underlies the fragility of dreams and the often forgotten sense of humanity. The scene has also been reproduced in many different locations to support several social campaigns.
Di-faced Tenner, 2004; Image by www.pinterest.com
Anonymity is fundamental if you are a protester, particularly if your name is Banksy and you decide to print fake one million pound bills and rain them on a crowd during the Notting Hill & Reading Festival. The planned art stunt worked brilliantly: everybody was spending the money issued by the “BANKsy of England” with the portrait of Lady Diana on it, instead of the Queen. Interestingly, when the hoax was revealed, many people kept the bills attributed to Banksy. It’s again a game of perception, where anarchy turns into capitalism, and it becomes a commentary on art and value.
Toilet-henge, Glastonbury Festival, 2007; Image by www.pinterest.com
“A lot of monuments are a bit rubbish but this really is a pile of c**p.” This is how the artist described an artwork produced in 2007. A replica of Stonehenge, the worldwide famous circular altar stone, namely Britain’s national treasure, entirely made of decorated portable toilets. The location has certainly concerned some people as the piece was installed at Glastonbury Festival on “sacred ground,” according to the festival’s devotees. Controversies never seem to leave Banksy, especially when he or she deals with holy matters and national landmarks.
The boat Louise Michel with Banksy’s Girl with a Lifevest, a version of “Girl with a Balloon, 2020; Image by www.abc.net.au
This is the name of a 31m boat funded by Banksy to rescue immigrants in the Mediterranean Sea. While people’s lives are at risk, the artist reminds us that humanity has no color or borders, and Banksy does so with an incredibly generous act that goes beyond his usual artistic method. The ongoing crisis between Europe and North Africa has already resulted in too many deaths, and Banksy decided to side with the underprivileged, opposing the selfish, careless attitude of Western countries towards the others.