Art continues to be a reliable platform for understanding the social climate at any given place in history. Anonymous Graffiti artist, Banksy, gained notoriety by marking the stage where civic issues manifest everyday – the street. This gave him an unavoidable platform to express his views and ensured an audience of passergoers who were forced to stop and consider the messages he was plastering. Banksy’s work infiltrated the contemporary art scene where he continues to be a pivotal figure in the world of street art and outspoken activist for political issues. He challenges structures of authority, capitalism, and modes of violence. Unsurprisingly, many of Banksy’s work spotlights police and government, mocking their status as civil servants. The following prints were released throughout the 2000’s, but remain as relevant as ever to the issues facing the globe today.
Have a Nice Day is one of the first screen prints ever released by Banksy. The landscape piece depicts a loaded tank at its center, surrounded by dozens of military or riot police. The officers’ faces have been obscured by bright ‘acid-house’ smiley faces. This common symbol of rave culture has been adopted by various movements, including the popular graphic novel, The Watchman, where it is used to explore the corruption of power. “Have A Nice Day” – a phrase commonly used as a civil nicety – is written in script below the line of armed forces. Displayed with lethal bodies and disfigured faces, it serves as a clear juxtaposition to the pose of impending violence.
Rude Copper places a friendly neighborhood cop in a compromising position. The old-fashioned custodian helmet originated in the 1800’s and is still commonly worn by British patrols to this day. Banksy adds a middle finger and stone–faced look to the officer, giving the viewer the unsettling encounter of being flipped off by the force employed to maintain their safety. True to his anti–authoritative views, the piece depicts a corrupted cop in direct opposition to the audience.
In No Ball Games, Banksy mocks the overprotective grip of ‘nanny states’ and their intrusion on free choice. The sign “No Ball Games” is playfully thrown in the air between two young children, showing how harmless rule breaking can be. The print highlights the restrictions of everyday life and gives civil disobedience the fresh face of innocence.
In Turf War, Banksy portrays Winston Churchill as the face of greed and globalization. The grass mohawk serves as a symbol for Churchill’s desire for land during World War II. The piece originated in reference to the May Day riots of 2000 where anti-capitalist protests were held on the traditional holiday of International Workers’ Day. Banksy explains, “I thought that on a day when people all over the world were gathering to express their human rights and the right to freedom of speech, I would express a challenge to an icon of the British establishment.” Turf War discredits the history books, marking May Day as a day of unrest, not leisure, and Churchill, a fraudulent leader.
Banksy’s work documents a disconnect between people and the social systems they operate in. While the pieces originated in the streets of Britain, it is possible to see their connection to the growing unrest that is revealing itself on a global scale. Through his work, Banksy calls for change and takes action. From spray painting the streets, to creating signs for protests, to his recent proposal that the Edward Colston statue in Bristol be replaced by a monument of the activists who tore it down. Banksy creates art for rebellion and challenges the status quo. His success and the subculture that has risen around him proves that speaking out amasses attention and warrants a response. For this reason, rebels of the art world and society continue to look to Banksy for inspiration.