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Banksy: genius or vandal?

No one knows who he is, no one has ever seen his face or revealed his identity, all that is known is that he wants to spread very specific messages of social protest with his street art. The artist Banksy is considered one of the greatest representatives of street art, although his identity remains a mystery.

From the movie "Exit Through the Gift Shop" (2010)

Street art

In the 1970s, a new form of artistic expression emerged in the United States. It was called street art or graffiti art. It was put directly on the walls of suburban houses, in subways, on train cars, and in all other places where many people were. For obvious reasons, this social phenomenon was considered a form of vandalism attributed to criminal gangs. It should be remembered that violating the property of others, even with artistic intent, is a criminal offense. Street art uses the stencil technique. The stencil technique consists in reproducing the same design in series thanks to a cardboard model that is placed on the surface and used as a mold for the work that is made with spray paint. It is a way to create an image in an economical and above all quick way, an essential detail when making murals in places where you are not allowed to do so.

Source: @Google Images

We are all Banksy

Robert Del Naja, the frontman of Massive Attack, once said, "We are all Banksy" meaning that it does not matter what face is hidden under the hood. Banksy speaks with the voice of millions by addressing current issues and addressing society's most pressing problems. So what is the Banksy phenomenon? Is it vandalism or a fight for the highest ideals? Banksy spreads protest messages that speak directly to people's hearts and consciences. His specialty is creating unique graffiti that documents the problems of humanity: war atrocities, gay rights, environmental pollution, exploitation of children, abuse of power... Subversive works in which social and political issues are told in a satirical tone. When unpleasant topics are transformed into brilliant works, the message becomes memorable and makes the viewer think.

Social protest through art

His works are sharp and ironic images, sometimes accompanied by slogans. He plays with the most familiar clichés and distorts their meaning to reflect on the emptiness of a consumer society that is unable or unwilling to see the real problems that surround it. In his works he often inserts commercial icons that are recognizable to everyone. He speaks to us, about issues that affect us, using a language that is familiar to us (sometimes close to that of advertising communication) and that reaches us in the places where we spend our lives (cities, streets, walls, etc.). Here are some of his most famous works:

Source: @Google Images

2002, London. "Girl with balloon" is about a little girl who escapes from a red, heart-shaped balloon. However, the words "There is always hope" give the work an even broader meaning, to remind us that there is always hope. The red balloon represents innocence, love, but it is also generally associated with lightness, dreams and wishes.

Source: @Google Images

2004, Brighton. This work shows two policemen kissing as a message to reflect on homophobia, against the background of a provocative note against the authorities. In the world of the military, with its strict rules, homosexuality is often hidden, and those who come out as homosexual are the exception. The original - after numerous damages - was transferred to the canvas, and in its place was put a facsimile.

Source: @Google Images

2005, Jerusalem. "Rage, the Flower Thrower" or "Love is in the Air" shows a boy in combat gear throwing a bouquet of flowers instead of a Molotov bomb: a sign of hope against destruction. Placing the stencil on the wall that separates Israel and Palestine describes the gesture as an attempt to tear down the barriers that divide peoples. Banksy thus calls for conflict to be resolved through dialog rather than the violence of war. Also in 2005, Banksy created works on the separation wall between Israel and Palestine in the West Bank. He uses the trompe l'oeil technique, which gives the impression that there are cracks in the wall through which one can see what is on the other side.

Source: @Google Images

2014, Bristol. Erected on the walls of the "Broad Plain Boys Club", a meeting and recreational facility for the children and youth of Bristol, which was in danger of closing for economic reasons. After Banksy created the mural, he sent a certificate of authenticity in which he transferred ownership of the work to the club, explaining that this was his way of helping the club financially. In fact, the work was valued at 400,000 pounds. It is meant to point out the lack of real communication in a time when digital communication is ubiquitous. Love in the time of the smartphone.

Source: @Google Images

2016, Calais. The protagonist of this mural in Calais - a huge slum where migrants from France try to reach the UK - sees Steve Jobs as the protagonist carrying an old computer and a bag on his shoulders. This is to remind us that Apple's CEO is also the son of immigrants: his biological father was a Syrian refugee who came to New York in the 1950s. An important topic like immigration, told through a character that everyone knows.

Source: @Google Images

Politics is another favorite topic of Banksy. He often comments on various political issues, such as Brexit. For Banksy, politics is a way to manipulate the public consciousness. His opinion is clearly expressed in his works. Banksy says: "There is nothing more dangerous than someone who wants to make the world a better place" On this mural Banksy depicts a worker who removes one of the stars of the EU flag with a chisel. The artist once again deals with the policies of his home country and denounces the measures.


Source: @Google Images

The choice to depict rats is not accidental. In fact, at first glance, mice are small, ugly and insignificant, but they have managed to destroy entire social systems. They can survive in any situation and are the only animals that are optimally adapted to the urban environment. We are all rats in one way or another. We try to survive as best we can in the conditions the system creates for us, and we get clever and inventive to find a way around the system.


Source: @Google Images

In the summer of 2015, he and other artists created Dismaland, an artistic installation by the sea in Somerset, England. Dismaland looks like a dilapidated Disney Park with ruined castles, deceased princesses, and bored tour guides. Despite the ironic reading of the initiative at first glance, the park created by Banksy highlights the hypocrisy of a society that uses entertainment and its fantasy worlds to hide real problems and social injustices.

Queen Mary University

Source: @Google Images

In March 2016, scientists at London's Queen Mary University published a study in which they claim to have tracked down Banksy's true identity. It was Robin Gunningham, a 49-year-old English artist, they said. To find out, they used a geographic localization technique used in the fight against terrorism. All that is certain is that Banksy has been recognised for his works so far and that the name of those who created them does not matter. "I do not know why people are so excited about making the details of their private lives public, they forget that invisibility is a superpower" Banksy said.

Genius or vandal?

Banksy's work has an international language that crosses cultural boundaries and appeals to everyone. It is an art that fulfills its first and most important task: it makes us think. Banksy is a brilliant blend of art and communication. He uses the net perfectly to make his works known and communicated. On Instagram, for example, there are almost 360,000 photos under the tag #banksy. His forays through the streets of cities to leave his mark on the walls have been a source of inspiration for well-known brands in the implementation of some guerrilla marketing campaigns. Therefore, he can be called an artistic and communicative genius.

Written by Matilda D’Urso

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