The enigmatic and highly political British stencil artist, Banksy, recently visited Gaza to paint some walls. But there is much more to this trip than just another street artist traveling to a far away destination or on a global tour spraycation. Gaza is not the destination point of many people wishing to travel the world. In fact its very difficult. Those wishing to visit are not allowed, just as those who live there are not allowed to leave. Banksy snuck into the Palestinian territory through a network of illegal underground tunnels, packing only spray paint and a camera. His intention? To paint on the bomb and bullet pummeled walls of Gaza and use his fame and following to share what living conditions are like there. He is not new to the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. He first visited the West Bank in 2005 and again in 2007 when he brought his annual London art show, Santa’s Ghetto, to Bethlehem, Palestine. The has openly stood in solidarity with Palestine in all of his projects there, each time using his art to bring attention a place that he sees so much oppression, violence, and human rights violations.
“Gaza is often described as ‘the world’s largest open air prison’ because no-one is allowed to enter or leave. But that seems a bit unfair to prisons — they don’t have their electricity and drinking water cut off randomly almost every day.” – Banksy
This visit he has painted a picture of Niobe, from Greek mythology. Niobe is the symbol for eternal mourning. She was punished for arrogance with the killing of her 14 children and husband who took his own life. In her sorrow she turned to stone, to be forever grieving. Banksy also stenciled children swinging around a surveillance tower like it was a carnival ride. A bit of his philosophy was shared with his signature red paint and childlike handstyle, reading: “If we wash our hands of the conflict between the powerful and the powerless we side with the powerful — we don’t remain neutral.”
The artist also painted a giant kitten with a pink bow on a crumbled building wall, pawing at a ball of rebar on the ground next to it. Banksy commented on the piece with, “A local man came up and said ‘Please — what does this mean?’ I explained I wanted to highlight the destruction in Gaza by posting photos on my website — but on the internet people only look at pictures of kittens.”
A culmination of his trip is in his 2 minute video of the experience which has the title of “Make this the year YOU discover a new destination.” In the artist’s signature cheeky, blunt, and savagely honest style, the short video has a tourism style to it – “Welcome to Gaza,” it starts. “Well away from the tourist track… Nestled in an exclusive setting… Watched over by friendly neighbors” The film gets to the reality of the situation with hard-hitting facts like after each of these seemingly innocent bits of information about Gaza – “Development opportunities are everywhere (no cement has been allowed into Gaza since the bombing).” Banksy can seem to catch some flack from people both in and out of the street art/graffiti world, but he does what many do not – risks it all to raise awareness toward concerns that he feels deeply about. The artist has hit a superstar status but does not sit back and revel in his glory. He is hard at work, going to dangerous places and painting walls for social justice and social change. He is a true artist and activist! It makes us wonder what the world would be like if more artists, celebrities, cultural iconic figures did more with their fame and took direct action on matters that mean something to them. Keep it up, Banksy!