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Banksy: a graffiti artist and a social activist

WHO IS BANKSY?

Banksy is an anonymous England-based street artist, political activist and film director. His satirical street art and subversive epigrams combine dark humour with graffiti executed in a distinctive stenciling technique. You can see his works of political and social commentary on streets, walls, and bridges of cities throughout the world. Banksy's work grew out of the Bristol underground scene, which involved collaborations between artists and musicians.

The artist has always kept his name and identity a secret.

By remaining anonymous he has created an air of mystery which has helped him to become one of the most successful artists of his generation.

So, who is Banksy? What is his real name?

This is still a mystery. The artist has said he will never reveal his identity.

In 2008, a newspaper reportedly unmasked Banksy as Robin Gunningham. Gunningham is "a former public schoolboy brought up in middle-class suburbia" and attended the Bristol Cathedral School. He was a gifted artist at school.

Mr Brainwash - or comical street artist Thierry Guetta - is another candidate. He appeared in the documentary Exit Through the Gift Shop, which has led people to believe he was a hoax* created by Banksy or that he is Banksy.

hoax: burla

Banksy could be artist Damien Hirst's alter ego. The pair collaborated for the piece Keeping It Spotless, which features a French maid sweeping under a spot painting.

Robert Del Naja was identified as the anonymous artist last year when Bristol DJ Goldie appeared to name the Massive Attack member, a personal friend, in an interview. He said: "No disrespect to Rob, I think he is a brilliant artist. I think he has flipped the world of art over*". It was noted on several occasions that Banky's work tended to appear in places where Massive Attack had recently performed or were about to.

flip over: rovesciare, capovolgere

WHO ARE HIS INSPIRATIONS?

Banksy was inspired by the French stencil artist Blek le Rat, using graffiti since the beginning of the 1980s. The similarities are very small but, they are evident. For example, the mark of Blek le Rat is a little rat made with stencils, very similar to the rats often illustrated by Banksy.

(Photo: https://cdn.shopify.com/s/files/1/2070/1789/files/blek-rats_large.jpg?v=1512761698)

Blak le Rat described the rat as "the only free animal in the city", and one which "spreads the plague* everywhere, just like street art". Rats are an ideal subject because “they create fear, they are synonymous with invasion and they are the only wild animals [apart from] pigeons that live in the city.”

*plague: piaga, pestilenza, epidemia

“If you feel dirty, insignificant or unloved, then rats are a good role model. They exist without permission, they have no respect for the hierarchy of society ...” (Banksy)

WHAT IS A STENCIL?

Stencil art techniques are used by graffiti artists because of their advantages. The technique provided graffiti artists with several important advantages:

  • the possibility to easily reproduce their work
  • to do it fast in order to disappear before getting caught by the police: the artist has time to create the graffiti stencils in his/her studio while the actual graffiti piece is done quickly.

The image is drawn on cardboard, acetate or paper and then cut out by hand. It has been said that Banksy and graffiti artists currently create computer images which are then printed on the stencil medium, but given the secrecy in which they work, nobody knows this for sure.

Once the drawing is on the respective medium, it is cut out by hand so that the stencil is created. Then it is placed where the drawing will be, typically on a wall. The artist applies spray paint or roll-on paint over the stencil and this is how the image is created. For more complex pieces, multiple layers of stencils are used. In this way, the artist can add more color and depth to the image.

The stencil graffiti appear on walls quite fast. This allows Banksy and his fellow artists to share their viewpoint and convey their message exactly as they want without risking being interrupted by the police and leaving their works unfinished.

SOCIAL AND POLITICAL ACTIVISM

Banksy's graffitis draw attention to important social and political issues. Each piece has a very specific message it wants to convey. Banksy uses humor to induce viewers to contemplate the underlying seriousness of his messages.

Banksy's works have dealt with various political and social themes, including anti-war, anti-consumerism, anti-fascism, anti-imperialism, anti-authoritarianism. He also critiques common human conditions such as greed, poverty, hypocrisy, boredom, despair, alienation.

BANKSY IN PALESTINE

Since Israel became a nation, a constant state conflict has become the norm between Israelis and Palestinians. Banksy chose to comment on the Israeli West Bank (it: Cisgiordania) Barrier.

This wall is a political symbol and it separates the two conflicting opponents. Some Israelis claim that the wall gives protection against possible terrorism from Palestinians, but even more see the wall as a separation between two cultures and religions.

During his visit to the West Bank in 2005, Banksy created nine provocative images along the barrier.

Balloon Debate depicts a Palestinian girl’s dream in flying to freedom over the Separation Wall using her balloons. Banksy is using this child’s innocence against the brutality of this wall.

Balloon Debate (https://blogs.uoregon.edu/banksypalestine/in-the-moment/balloon-debate/)

Banksy said through his publicist to The New York Times after a trip to Gaza:

"I don't want to take sides. But when you see entire suburban neighbourhoods reduced to rubble (it: macerie) with no hope of a future—what you're really looking at is a vast outdoor recruitment centre for terrorists."

An artwork by Banksy in the Gaza region. Credit banksy.co.uk

In February 2015 Banksy published a 2-minute video titled Make this the year YOU discover a new destination about his trip to Gaza Strip.

But this is no ordinary travel advert.

Instead, Banksy depicts real life for ordinary Palestinians in Gaza satirising the travel advert format.

THE WALLED OFF HOTEL IN BETHLEHEM

In 2017, marking the 100th anniversary of the British control of Palestine, Banksy financed the creation of the Walled Off Hotel in Bethlehem. This hotel is open to the public and each of the bedrooms face the wall. It also houses a contemporary art gallery.

His Walled Off Hotel is in Bethlehem, revered by Christians as the birthplace of Jesus, a few metres from a stretch of the controversial West Bank barrier which has been heavily decorated by artists.

Let's play Hot Seat! Imagine you are Banksy and answer your classmates' questions.

(Texts and photos adapted from: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/art/what-to-see/who-is-banksy-and-what-is-his-real-name-the-man-behind-the-myths/, http://www.bbc.co.uk/newsround/27050301, http://www.whoisbanksy.com/technique.html, https://www.channel4.com/news/banksy-opens-bethlehem-hotel )

Created by Eva Picco, I.C. Donadoni Sarnico

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