GeneralThe Elitist Irony of Banksy

The Elitist Irony of Banksy

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Last week, a Banksy mural on the side of a South Wales garage was sold to art dealer for a ‘six figure sum’. The new owner John Brandler added to his collection of pre-existing Banksy pieces. The artwork itself displays a child appearing to enjoy a snow shower, however from a wider angle, it becomes apparent that the snow is in fact, ash blowing over from a bin fire. This piece may be interpreted as a critique of the current environmental state, and the risk of disillusionment this poses upon future generations.

Photo Credit: Getty Images

Since his first emergence into the art world in the late 1990s, Banksy has a pattern of producing work with a social commentary. He has risen from rags to riches; walls of alleyways to the homes of millionaire art-collectors. However, in his 2006 book Cut It Out, he states:

The people who truly deface our neighbourhoods are the companies that scrawl giant slogans across buildings and buses trying to make us feel inadequate unless we buy their stuff”.

Now, I don’t deny that Banksy has a valid point within this extract. We can not step outside our homes without being bombarded by the side effects of living in a commercialist world. My issue is with what Banksy has now become. More specifically; his hypocrisy, which has become increasingly apparent in recent years. In Summer 2015, Banksy opened the doors to his ‘Bemusement Park’ titled Dismaland. This was a temporary project organised by himself, described as a ‘sinister twist on Disneyland’. It displayed a collection of various artists, including a giant pinwheel. Which has recently been given a £50,000 government grant to be transported to Somerset. Though I appreciate a giant pinwheel may be seen as a local artefact, £50,000 could have been better placed in practical arts programs, or local community services.

The people who run our cities don’t understand graffiti because they think nothing has the right to exist unless it makes a profit….” This statement has become almost satirical. Banksy has created a personality whom despises capitalism, yet he capitalised from Dismaland, he capitalises from his art. In fact, his net worth is estimated to be £38 million. His art is praised for being relatable, accessible and empowering often from a socialist perspective. However, we cannot deny his new position of privilege, and his integration into the exact elitist world he was previously fighting against. It’s interesting to consider the original context of Banksy; a movement of rebellion. Which is now barricaded and policed 24/7 in public places, and available exclusively within high-brow institutions, for a small fee of $1.37 million.  

Even his attempts to dismantle the establishment have ended ironically. In October 2017, as the gavel dropped for the Girl With Balloon, so did the painting… through an in-built shredder. As a result, it’s value increased dramatically and it became a global viral sensation. As a publicity stunt, this was huge. As a socialist statement, not so much.

Which poses the question, is Banksy a Sell Out? Has the radical anarchist he once was, become muted by the glitter and gold of being a multimillionaire?

Ilayda McIntosh
Ilayda McIntosh
Ilayda McIntosh is a writer, journalist and photographer specialising within topics of arts, culture, race relations and gender politics. She has a BA (Hons) degree in English and Drama. @iilaydamac

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