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Banksy and modern street art

| Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Some people may adore him and his work, others may despise him with every bone in their body and want him behind bars. Some may view his work as fine art, while others may see it as straight-up vandalism. Personally, as a Visual Communication Design major, I view Banksy as a modern-day hero.

As an English graffiti artist with the pseudonym “Banksy,” he uses his wit to create works invoking political and social commentary. Banksy came into the spotlight during the 1990s for his provocative stenciled pieces in England, and now he has work in America, Australia, Canada, France, Israel, Jamaica and Palestine. As an artist, he has no boundaries and risks imprisonment so he can have his thoughts heard. Without a doubt, he is one of the most daring artists who leads a new era of art and expression.

One of his famous pieces, and one of my personal favorites, is a London piece of a protester throwing a bouquet of flowers. The protester is not holding a grenade or a harmful weapon — he is holding something innocent and beautiful. The idea behind this piece is unexpected weapons. His simple, stenciled image of the protester in black and white, versus the out-of-place colorful flowers, suggests that we may be able to get more accomplished by negotiating kindly.

Another work that challenges the viewer is of a little girl frisking a soldier — a piece all about role reversals. The piece was created in 2007 and is located on the West Bank of Bethlehem. Similar to his other pieces with children, the girl represents youthful innocence. Her light pink dress contrasts with the olive green uniform of a soldier and his machine gun lying on the ground. The soldier is leaning on the wall that symbolizes the divide between Israelis and Palestinians. The role reversal comments on the children’s immunity to political conflict in the area. His picture of the girl and the solider is one of several pieces in his series on the West Bank wall, which brought him international fame.

On a wall in Brighton, England, outside a pub, Banksy stenciled two male policemen passionately embracing each other and kissing. His gay-cop piece evokes a powerful social message because it challenges masculinity. Police are often seen as strong, hyper-masculine authoritative figures, while gay men are stereotypically thought to be less masculine than straight men. The piece can also be seen as addressing gay rights or attacking homophobia.

Another one of my favorite pieces is Banksy’s “Follow Your Dreams” piece found in Boston. The image features a worn-out male painter standing next to the painted phrase, “Follow Your Dreams,” in uppercase letters. Over the phrase is a red rectangle with the word “CANCELLED” in white. Most likely, everyone has heard a phrase similar to “Follow Your Dreams,” and Banksy is highlighting the notion that dreams cannot be “cancelled,” and he is making a comment on how government tries to control every aspect of our life. In particular, his work is placed in a low-income district of Boston, giving the piece a deeper meaning and comment on class stratification.

Overall, I admire Banksy’s passion for art, his use of his art as a platform for social criticism and his fearless attack on institutions. If you still aren’t convinced that this street artist is not a big deal, he was selected for TIME magazine’s list of the world’s 100 most influential people in 2010, finding himself among others such a Barack Obama and Steve Jobs. Although his identity is concealed, he advocates a direct connection between him and his viewers through his easily accessible and visible works on the streets. So if you have a minute or two, google him. I can guarantee his work will cause you to question the world we live in.


The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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About Meagan Bens

Meagan is a junior Visual Communication Design major and Journalism, Ethics, and Democracy minor living in Lyons Hall. She serves as a sports writer and hails from the suburbs of Chicago.

Contact Meagan