If you think Banksy’s work is no more than an act of vandalism you are wrong. It may be that graffiti is illegal, but one thing’s for sure: his work goes far further than him pissing on a street wall to mark his territory. And his newest piece is no exception.
Over the weekend Banksy’s latest thought provoking message appeared on a street corner in Knightsbridge. The piece – which depicts Cosette from Les Miserables, emerging from a fog of gas with her eyes streaming – is a clear response to the French Police’s night raid on refugees in Calais. Next to the mural is a barcode that allows passers by to watch the police attack for themselves on their smart phones.
No one can deny that it is clever or powerful. Fundamentally it is not so much the message that Banksy is presenting here that is of importance, but the act itself: bringing the conversation, which is so needed, to the realm of popular-culture.
Purely through his conscious anonymity and the cult following that entails, he wields a power in conversation unmatched by politicians or identified activists. Said activists are too in-your-face and politicians would rather not have the conversation, unless it will win them votes. The vast majority of people avoid listening to either at all costs.
His message, though, is also incredibly important. Banksy has once again provided a voice for the vulnerable: those who cannot legally or visibly be heard. Without a whisper, or pledging allegiance, Banksy has managed to become an advocate and speak for a group of people in dire need of attention. People whose own attempts are being drowned out in the media by football scores, Corbyn drama and the Great British Weather.
When officials aren’t averting our gaze they soothe our angst by patting the heads of those helping from afar, as if that’s sufficient action. They’re perfectly happy to congratulate Germany on their warm welcome to those who made it to Europe. Well up for considering those Greek islanders, who helped so many, for a Nobel Peace Prize. But actively help them themselves? Unlikely. Apparently the government has got 99 problems and helping refugees ain’t one.
Banksy’s depiction of un-humanitarian police action, so vulgar that it would hurt the children of a Revolution, may not go down so well with those who think ignorance is bliss. But I don’t think there are many Brits who wish to remain in the dark. That’s why the voices of popular artists like Banksy are so necessary: we need to be aware of all, not just official opinions.
That his voice comes in the form of vandalism is part of his point; his protest is against the State, testing the rules of our society that he believes are unjust. It’s illegality and accessibility adds a dimension of authenticity that can only be achieved in public spaces.
In true ironic style the council have now, (as they often do with a piece of vandalism as valuable as a Banksy) covered the mural, not in the name of the law, but to save it so that it can be sold for huge amounts of money. I doubt that any of the money raised will go towards helping the real-life tear-stained Cosettes wipe their eyes dry.
No matter: it looks like Banksy’s job here is done. Enough people saw it for it to go viral, make the news and lead many news websites to include the all important video that the barcode links to. Once again it shows that rules are there to be broken. Big up Banksy.