A few days ago the illusive and highly political British stencil artist, Banksy, put up a piece in downtown London across the street from the French embassy. The painting shows the weeping face of Cosette from Les Misérables (or “The Miserables”), in a cloud of CS tear gas. The famous historical novel by French author, Victor Hugo, has gone on to be more so popularized by numerous adaptations for stage, television, and film.
Next to the image is a QR code that sends the audience to a YouTube video (shown below) of purported French police hurling CS gas canisters into the refugee camps in Calais, France, a place referred to as “The Jungle.” In classic Banksy style, he weaves together image, form, meaning, critique and activism beautifully, to create yet another meaningful piece. Banksy has been focusing on the escalating refugee situation recently. His second latest piece (shown below), in Calais, was an image of Apple founder, Steve Jobs, in the refugee camp with an old Mac in one hand and a bag of belongings over his shoulder. That piece highlighted that Jobs was the son of a Syrian migrant, himself, which provokes the thought – big change makers come from everywhere.
What makes the work so historically and culturally relevant is his use of the classic image of Cosette, the little girl from the classic novel. Examining the nature of law and grace, the novel elaborates upon the history of France, the architecture and urban design of Paris, politics, moral philosophy, antimonarchism, justice, religion, and the types and nature of romantic and familial love. Connecting culture, history, oppression, and notions of freedom and liberty, Banksy nailed it once again!