The Incredible World of Banksy
Banksy, the as-of-yet anonymous British artist and political activist, has captured the imagination of a generation of the art elite and lay people alike, from his origins with free hand graffiti in the Bristol underground scene to his current status as an international cultural icon.
Walking down Rue du Faubourg Montmartre in Paris on a crisp fall morning, I wasn't expecting to come across a Banksy exhibit. But there she was, The Girl With the Balloon, perhaps the artist's most acclaimed work, stencilled onto the wall of the Espace Lafayette Drouout, drawing one's immediate attention to the exhibition titled simply, 'The World of Banksy'.
Banksy, the as-of-yet anonymous British artist, and political activist, has captured the imagination of a generation of the art elite and laypeople alike, from his origins with freehand graffiti in the Bristol underground scene to his current status as an international cultural icon. His work was famously auctioned at Sotheby's in 2018 for a whopping £1.04 million. When the piece, the same Girl With the Balloon (or Balloon Girl) cited above, promptly self-destructed shortly after the gavel dropped, there was a collective sense of shock in the art establishment, accompanied by a steady increase in the notional value of the semi-destructed artwork.
Given his history of churning out some of the most compelling pieces of protest art, I was immediately intrigued and drawn into the exhibit. It wasn't a disappointment. It had the rare quality of inviting one into the world of the artist and allowing for the full force of his artistic vision to be felt. The Walled Off Hotel (a not so subtle take on the Waldorf hotel), a recreation of the actual lodging cum protest gallery that Banksy set up in Bethlehem, immerses the visitor into a physical space that serves as a cogent reminder of the artist's worldview. Other classics such as the Robot, the Flower Thrower, Parachuting Rat, Nola and Seasons Greetings leave you with a clear sense of Banksy's persistent crusade to highlight injustices all over the globe - ranging from the Israel-Palestine dispute to hurricane-ravaged New Orleans to imprisoned Kurdish artist Zehra Dogan.
The images are striking, to say the least. While most have the quality of grabbing you by the scruff of the neck and forcing you to pay attention, others make you pause and reflect. The exhibit masters the use of sound, light and even air circulation, to create an immersive experience that is at once unsettling and deeply moving at the same time. The artist Banksy revels in his ability to put you in a spot of bother, delivering hard-hitting messages that force you to sit up and take note. I most certainly did.