What does it really do?

With origins dating back thousands of years to simple cave paintings, graffiti by definition as “writings or drawings that have been scribbled, scratched, or painted illicitly on a wall or other surface, often within public view”(Oxford Press, 2016), can be considered one of the oldest forms of art today. The act of graffiti requires a unique skill set consisting of varying styles, color and creative inspiration. This unique format draws in a wide array of audiences and encourages artists to reach outside the comfortable confines of standard art forms. Banksy, is an England-based graffiti artist whose name has buzzed around the art world for the past two decades. He began painting in the early 1990’s around underground London. His most famous technique is the use of stencils to produce his work. The idea actually dawned on him as a young high schooler hiding under an abandoned train as police searched the area around him and he decided he needed to find a more efficient, quick way to put up his pieces. Banksy is a modern day renaissance man categorized as a: “graffiti master, painter, activist, filmmaker and all-purpose provocateur”(Smithsonian Web). He was even voted into the “list of the world’s 100 most influential people in 2010, [where] he found himself in the company of Barack Obama, Steve Jobs and Lady Gaga”(Ellsworth-Jones). Banksy’s unique style is using his stencils to create works with controversial viewpoints or accusations on controversial topics while staying completely anonymous for nearly twenty-five years. It is an amazing feat. His works are known for invading people’s minds and causing the viewers to complete an extensive self-reflection on various subjects, in the hope that their opinions will change and eventually the issue may also change.

Over the years boundaries have been drawn limiting the freedom of graffiti artists. Certain works are considered vandalism, while others are viewed as art. One of graffiti’s most attractive qualities is that artists offer different, contradictory opinions on present day topics. Consequently, graffiti carries a significant amount of controversy; whether people are debating the daring meaning of the work or the location of the piece, every aspect of graffiti can generate interesting debate. However, a common misconception of graffiti is its role in riots and demonstrations on city streets. Banksy, in particular, questions certain issues and indulges audiences prompting them to reevaluate their thinking by observing his creations. His hope is that they see the alternative viewpoint of the issue he presents and that they may contribute to eventual changes regarding the topic. His works, as provocative as they are, are not the driving force behind vicious riots or demonstrations outside city buildings. Banksy simply offers conflicting ideas on high priority topics, giving those without a voice a chance to be heard and those too blind to see their points, a glimpse at another side of the topic. “The ability of his art to make viewers think is a skill that not every artist can master”(Urbangateway). People believe art can change the world and when you see people interacting, when you see the impact art has on their lives, I believe in a small way, that is changing the world. Street Art is about eliciting change. It is about creating controversy, emotions, invading people’s mind, surprising them, and allowing them to see that we don’t live in a perfect world. Graffiti artists, Banksy in particular, say that we can make it better and it is our duty to do so. I have always had a distinct fondness for Banksy and his work because of his immense creativity, as well as his choice to produce works associated with sensitive subjects. The following images all represent the true creativity of Banksy and his power to push for personal change for the better rather than to provoke any negative actions.


Title: Jesus Christ with shopping bags
Artist: Banksy
Location: Bonhams, London
Photographer: Ilona Polinovsky
Photograph: Urban Gateways Blog

In this image, Christ is pictured as he was on the cross; however, no wooden cross or nails are seen. Instead, Christ hangs holding two full shopping bags. The bags themselves are decorated with pink ribbons contrasting the black and white figure of Christ, as well as the gray background of the art itself. This work certainly stands apart as a unique piece to any passerby and draws in the audience by grabbing their emotional interest and overall curiosity. This work completed by Banksy, the renowned street artist from London, represents his effort to express the commercialism of society seen specifically during the holidays. It is designed possibly for people to reflect on their own spending habits and to shed light on how society has effectively encouraged and promoted a shopping mindset to celebrate the birth of Christ. Today,  purchasing the ‘next new thing’ during the holidays seems to be the focus of many instead of cherishing  the importance of family, thankfulness, love, charity, etc. Essentially holidays such as Christmas and Easter have,“become a time of personal gratification through materialistic consumption”(Weebly). Jesus Christ with shopping bags is a controversial piece because of the way it depicts a familiar vision of Christ on the cross. The viewers of this piece surely must pause for self-reflection on their personal priorities, evaluating the things most dear to them over the holidays. This image emphasizes the materialism of our generation as we have grown up surrounded by a shopping mentality. Essentially the message tells the general public that we are spending too much time purchasing instead of reflecting on the more important things in life. This work has not stopped the crazed actions of Black Friday, but it will continue to draw attention and cause careful self-evaluations that may alter someone’s thoughts about how materialistic a society we are often in lieu of faith and family. 


Title: Unnamed
Artist: Banksy
Location: Palestine
Photographer: Nigel Parry

Photograph: Electronicintifada.net (online news source)This next piece is another famous work done by Banksy, in Palestine. Banksy painted along a large, cement wall which runs along the Palestinian and Israeli border. The overall work entails several separate drawings that all declare the same obvious message. Banksy is hoping to clearly show the populations of Palestine and Israel that freedom is beyond the wall. The artist presents an image of a beautiful, tropical beach through the cement wall, with two kids beneath the beach scenery holding beach buckets and shovels. Another image shows a young boy standing on top of a mound of rocks in the center of what looks like a large hole in the wall, produced by a large explosion. As if to imply that the child is calling for people to follow him out past the wall to a new world, a better world. The third image is of a young girl holding on to a group of balloons as they carry her up the side of the wall, representing her escape from the confines of the wall. Finally, the fourth image is of a long ladder, running up the side of the wall to the top. There is a young boy kneeling beside the base of the ladder with pure glee on his face, as if to comfort viewers into believing it is safe and good to climb over the wall. This piece speaks of a long standing controversy that has been broadcasted worldwide. The conflict between the two countries. The images of escape, once again, lead the viewers to take a step back after examining the piece and examine themselves and perhaps consider the message of freedom. In addition, these images can compel the audience to really think about the situation around them. Is the conflict worth it? Does the divide between the two countries eliminate opportunities for joy? Questions that stir up quite a bit of controversy for the viewer.


Title: If Graffiti Changed Anything…It Would Be Illegal
Artist: Banksy
Location: Fitzrovia, Central London
Photographer: Anonymous
Photograph: Fitzrovia.org

This is another work by Banksy which expresses an opinion directly related to the message of this blog. The work first appeared in Fitzrovia, central London, in April, 2011. The piece itself was based on the saying of an American anarchist, Emma Goldman. Goldman was an outspoken anarchist during the late 1800’s whose famous line was, “ If voting changed anything, it would be illegal” (StencilRevolution, 2016), implying that our political system is corrupt and if our votes had any real impact we wouldn’t be allowed to vote. Banksy uses this phrase to express his own distaste about the political environment of our time and possibly to reflect on the impact graffiti has on creating change. After adjusting the message to match his specific intentions these words present a fascinating message;  graffiti presents many different kinds of problems and raises issues that affect a great number of people but does graffiti ever induce any real action. There are several interpretations of what Banksy’s true intentions were when he produced this piece. Some consider it about voting, others view it to be about the officials who often have his works removed, while many believe it to represent the hope that works of graffiti can eventually change the system. Finally, one of the most interesting viewpoints many people argue is that Banksy intentionally implied that graffiti produces no real change in the world. This introduces a real of irony because different graffiti images have indeed elicited change and that is why graffiti is deemed illegal. In the end, I believe Banksy created this work with the expectation that it would light a match under his audience of viewers who would add to the fire of destroying any corrupt systems.


Title: Designated Graffiti Area
Artist: Banksy
Location: Club in London
Photographer: Anonymous
Photograph: Atlas Obscura

“Designated Graffiti Area,” another piece by Banksy, is located in the back of a Club in London, but it can still be seen from the street. The piece has since been covered up by plexiglass in order to preserve the work and restrict and other artists from drawing over it. Similar to almost all of Banksy’s works, this piece continues the trend of anti-government taunting. The art itself is a jab at the police department and the overlying laws against graffiti. Banksy keeps the image lighthearted by adding humor to his art, portraying a policeman holding the leash of a fluffy poodle with a red nose, similar to a clown nose. The wall on which the work was done is actually considered a designated graffiti area. This wall space was set aside for the sole purpose of having street artists create and use it as a canvas. Banksy’s piece was so articulate and attention grabbing, the club shut down the wall after the work was put up. In my opinion the intention of the piece is to portray how in our present world our freedom of speech is in fact limited. It says that it is becoming more challenging for people to speak up against government; therefore, it is a necessity to provide a wall for graffiti to give the people a voice. Banksy’s, “Designated Graffiti Area,” piece was not only an understated attack on the structures of our political and social world, but an encouragement to those who shy away from speaking up, to use graffiti as their voice. Once again, this particular image offers a message that can impact the viewer on a very personal basis. It may not lead to immediate action or change but will make everyone think deeper.


Title: Mural of Alan
Artist: STMS
Location: Exarcheia, Athens
Photographer: Madison McCormick
Photograph: Madison McCormick, Global Citizen Article

The final piece is a mural that can be found in Exarcheia, located in downtown Athens, Greece. Although this work was not done by Banksy, the intentions of the piece and the style are similar, proving Banksy’s influence around the world. “Mural of Alan” is an inspirational piece designed to send a message about the refugee crisis in the world. The piece depicts Alan, a 3-year-old Syrian boy who drowned and washed up on a beach in Syria. His death was a result of desperate, fleeing refugees amidst the European refugee crisis. Mural of Alan is one of many street works dedicated to helping the refugee crisis; however, very few send as strong a message as this image.The work itself shows the face of a baby, probably no more than a few months old, lying on its side facing out towards the viewer. At a glance the baby looks asleep, yet if you look closer you will realize that it is dead. It might seem extreme to present this large image of a dead baby on the public street yet that is the strength of the piece and what the artist believed was appropriate. This large image was needed in order to get across the point that there are horrific actions occurring in Syria and Europe as a result of the refugee crisis and they should not be ignored. The anonymous artist used this public space in the street as a platform for social change, and to hopefully impact further action down the road. Mural of Alan is a controversial piece because of the dreadful image it presents, and it succeeds as an inspirational piece designed to force its onlookers to realize that the atrocity of the refugee crisis is irrefutable. This piece prompted many people to acknowledge the horrors of the crisis being caused by the conflicts in Europe. Mural of Alan is an example of graffiti created by artists around the world who have been inspired by Banksy, and who are beginning to create works similar to his that push the audience to look at the reality of an issue without inciting violence.

Graffiti is a unique form of art, not only because of the incredible skill and technique it requires, but also because of the messages and opinions the artists present on past, present, and even predicted future problems through blunt honesty. Banksy is a leader of the street art world because of his dedication to controversial topics and his talent to create captivating images that force his audience into self contemplation.When discussing why he does the work he does Banksy remarked, “Educating our kids about freedom of expression through art helps them learn and talk about ongoing issues, and it gives them a voice in telling our government that it is never too late to improve”(Urbangateway). He is one of the most prolific and popular artists because of the sincerity and selflessness seen in his work and his dedication to continue fighting against the more powerful for the sake of the people. Banksy portrays graffiti that is not the reason people riot in the streets, rather its true effect is a subtle reminder of the truth that we fail to see or choose not to see when it comes to sensitive issues. Graffiti offers a more open and honest message for people to consider. It is an extraordinary form of art that has become very interesting to me because of its ability to draw the attention of a wide variety of audiences and incite change within a person and their community.

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