Banksy’s art comes to Sydney

April 12, 2024
Adapted from a photo of Banky's mural painted on Israel's Apartheid wall in the West Bank. Original photo: @Amerune/flickr (CC By SA 2.0)

The Art of Banksy: Without Limits
Exhibition in the Sydney Lower Town Hall
$41/$32 concession
Until May 17

The Art of Banksy: Without Limits is a wild ride into the anti-authoritarian, anti-capitalist artistic world of Banksy — the British creator who put progressive politics into street art internationally. This exhibition, in Sydney’s Lower Town Hall until May 17, involves more than 160 works, and has been seen by more than 1.65 million viewers around the world so far.

The exhibition is not authorised by Banksy, but how else would we be able to see the genius of this unique artist? Banksy himself wrote that "copyright is for losers".

Banksy has particularly objected to the use of art for profit. He famously arranged for one of his artworks (Girl with Balloon) to shred itself after being sold at Sothebys for $1.9 million. Ironically, it later increased in value by 20 times!

"This is how it has to be," said curator Kemal Gurkaynak, a Turkish businessman and art collector, in justifying this travelling exhibition to ABC Arts on May 6 last year — after the Australian leg of the show opened in Brisbane.

"I have been criticised for taking art off the streets and onto the walls, but it is important to share it with people. Banksy underlines messages that could save humanity. It is about raising awareness of what's happening in our world, what's happening in Gaza, what's happening in Syria, what's happening in the Mediterranean. People are still dying out there."

Banksy, who has never identified himself and always wears a mask publicly, has been active in the street art scene in Britain since the early 1990s. He was first involved with a group of underground street artists in Bristol.

The exhibition features Banksy's earliest known large mural, entitled "The Mild Mild West", in which a teddy bear throws a Molotov cocktail at three riot police — based on real life events in 1999, when the police attacked a gathering of young party-goers in Bristol.

Banksy has always been a supporter of the Palestinian cause. He first made a trip to the Palestinian territories in 2005, and famously created new images on the West Bank wall. These included the iconic video of a young girl rising up, holding onto a bundle of balloons, and a Palestinian protester throwing a bunch of flowers.

In August 2015, Banksy returned to Palestine, this time making a satirical short video entitled, Welcome to Gaza. It includes the words, "The locals like it so much they never leave — because they are not allowed to."

The video depicts the destruction Israel had inflicted on Gaza well before the events of the past six months. It also shows the words painted onto a wall, "If we wash our hands of the conflict between the powerful and the powerless, we side with the powerful — we don't remain neutral."

Then, in 2017, Banksy collaborated with Palestinians to create the "Walled-Off Hotel" — a play on “Waldorf” — in Bethlehem, with "The worst view of any hotel in the world", located directly opposite a section of the Israeli West Bank wall. It showcased more than 20 original artworks, and has attracted nearly 140,000 international visitors.

Despite facing some local criticism for encouraging "tourism of suffering", the hotel — which is currently closed — has succeeded in drawing increased attention to Israel’s oppression of the Palestinian people.

We can only wait in keen anticipation for Banksy’s next depiction of Israeli genocide in its current war on Gaza.

Banksy’s 2015 Dismaland Bemusement Park exhibition was his largest undertaking until now. Built on a derelict site in Britain, "The show was built as a Bemusement Park for a family day out, but instead of a sugar-coated fantasy land, it appeared as a distorted, mirror-like fun fair: dark, ironic, sharp and unsettling," the Without Limits booklet explains.

"For this huge project, the elusive artist invited 50 different artists from 17 countries, and created 'a fairground that embraces brutality and low-level criminality’."

There are too many of Banksy's unique creations in the exhibition to list them all here, but a few famous examples include: the “Monkey Queen” (2003); “Death of a Phone Box” (2006); “I Don't Believe in Global Warming” (2009); “All Black Lives Matter” (2020); and “Valentine's Day Mascara” (2023).

Exit Through the Gift Shop (2010) was Banksy’s first venture into documentary film, and won an Oscar in 2011. "The film offers a captivating insight into the art and subculture that Banksy is synonymous with," the Without Limits booklet explains.

A highpoint of Banksy's career was his involvement in purchasing and supporting the refugee rescue boat MV Louise Michel, which meets and assists stricken vessels in the Mediterranean  Sea taking refugees from North Africa to Europe. The pink-coloured boat is adorned with a Banksy artwork, featuring a girl wearing a life vest and holding a heart-shaped safety buoy.

While The Art of Banksy: Without Limits is a little pricey, it is well worth the expense. Of the around 150 works on display, 34 are certified originals, and it is almost impossible to tell the difference in any case.

Banksy has been credited with uniting the worlds of art and graffiti, and of introducing a wide — especially young — audience to greater appreciation of art in general.

Go and see the exhibition soon, if you can.

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