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Banksy: Are Politics Good for Art?

18.06.20

The past few months have seen proliferation of new works popping up from everyone’s favorite graffiti artist, Banksy. At the beginning of April the artist transformed his bathroom into a work of art as lockdown settled in across the country, and in early May, he unveiled a new monochrome painting at Southhampton General Hospital. Featuring a young boy who replaced his Spiderman and Batman superhero figures with that of a PPE clad nurse, the work meant to show support for the NHS staff battling Coronavirus on the frontline – looks like all heroes do wear masks. Not long after its install, someone tried to steal it, garnering more press for the artist. Most recently, Banksy published an illustrated proposal for the replacement of the removed Edward Colston monument in Bristol, commemorating the act of pulling him down and the Black Lives Matter protests.

The artist has always made a name for himself by challenging existing systems and going against the grain, the nature of his medium built on anti-establishment sentiment. That being said, it can be strange to witness conversations about market value and “relevant” work during troubling times, begging the question are problematic politics good for art?

Many have fallen under critical eyes with accusations of capitalising on cultural shifts and changing public opinion in ways that threaten not only the artist’s reputation, but the work and the cause at hand. Artists like Banksy may have more security in this matter with an established practice known for calling out and questioning authority, but particularly in moments of crisis what is said and depicted by cultural leaders has capital and consequences. For better or worse, given his increased activity and the high frequency of global politics, one thing we’re certain of is that he’s not likely to be slowing down anytime soon.