Kevin Wango 11TT
Visual Arts Essay
Banksy’s Artwork either being Plagiarism or Revolution
Due date: 18 October 2018
Banksy is the most thrilling artist to emerge from the UK. He is not only a talented graffiti artist, but his work also suggests he’s a political activist. Some look at his work as offensive and dark-humoured. Banksy addresses modern day acts throughout the world in a controversial manner, ranging from issues like the social class, war, government, poverty and capitalism, making him the most famous anonymous artist to date. Although his artworks are seen as vandalism, the question is are Banksy’s artworks a form of plagiarism or revolution?
The notion of revolution as being a form of resistance:
Art in general is a form of resistance. The concept of resistance is inherently conservative. It indicates the ability of something to maintain itself. Paul Gauguin once said, “Art is either plagiarism or revolution”, artists in the 21st century have earned the right to free expression. Not only through protests, but also through an eruption of creativity represented in the use of pop culture. Banksy is one these people of our generation. He can be referred as a bricoleur artist – someone who is actively creating culturally resistive works based on existing texts, regardless of their original meaning. He can take materials from every aspect of life from Mona Lisa to Lolcat. For instance, in Banksy’s artwork, Kissing coppers, two police officers in full, typical British uniform are depicted kissing, in what appears to be a loving embrace. This artwork was originally spray-painted on the side of the Prince Albert pub in Trafalgar Street near downtown core of the city of Brighton. The piece can be interpreted in many ways. Banksy is advocating for a sexual-identity accepting society by placing icons of authority in pro-gay position. Some believe he is poking fun at policemen while others see the artwork positively showing a human side to the police force and emphasizing the strong bonds that exist on the police force between partners and teammates. The work is a testament to Banksy’s use of irony to challenge us to build a bridge of understanding between expected enemies of ideology. There is a sort of a revolution in this artwork that is in the form of a resistance movement. Resistance doesn’t have to be an oppositional act of political intention or the alienation of content from another culture, as a difference once recognized. It is also an effect of uncertainty produced within rules of recognition of dominating discourses as they express signs of cultural difference. The graffiti artist makes a revolutionary move by conquering the empty space and succeeding by sending a rebellious message through mainstream media.
It can therefore be said that Banksy’s artworks are sending a message to society that needs awareness and something that resonates well with many people around the world. One way this artwork can be interpreted could be a revolutionary piece of work that could possibly be a symbol for gay rights. In our generation everyone has personal experiences and beliefs and their own opinion on homosexuality. Another interpretation could be a possibility that the art was created in a certain point of view and would’ve been experienced from a different angle depending on the artist’s position in society. The actions of the cops kissing could be Banksy’s perspective of exposing the authority of the officers in a different way. Society usually perceives the idea that cops are associated as being masculine and heroic, but Banksy shows that officers also have emotions behind their badge. Banksy is striving for gender equality and the acceptance of sexuality.
The notion of Plagiarism:
Banksy’s work is straightforward and require little background knowledge to get an understanding of them. Anyone can be an audience for his artworks. He’s quite versatile. He makes fun of history, religion, movies etc. He adopts critical views on government policy, war and consumerism. This is an advantage as it would make his work popular and help other street artists (graffiti artists in general) gain recognition. There’s a reason why Banksy’s artworks are so popular and easy to remember despite his political messages and vandal acts. Majority of his artworks are drawn in black and white which makes them extremely visible with high contrast, but at the same time their also pretty simple for a person to walk by, notice and remember it. A perfect example of this would be the artwork, Napalm Girl. This time Banksy uses a pre-existing image – an iconic picture from Vietnam in 1972, of a girl named Kim Phuc running from an attack on her village. The original image was taken by a press photographer Nick Ut and has developed into a short hand for the atrocities of the Vietnam War. Banksy isolates the image of the horror-stricken girl (originally surrounded by a few other clothed children and 7 soldiers running down a road away from the site of the attack) and flanked her with Mickey Mouse and Ronald McDonald. These two icons are easily recognizable, smiling characters, when juxtaposed with the image of Napalm Girl, giving the image a very twisted and sinister feel. Both Mickey Mouse and Ronald McDonald are two friendly faces of American capitalism, the same country that dropped Napalm on Vietnam. This artwork becomes a critique of not just America but also of Capitalism.
The girl’s horror-stricken face is juxtaposed against the two characters’ big, bright smiles. In this image, Banksy shows both the fun, carefree façade of American culture, and tells the audience that America also has a very dark, underbelly which drops bombs on people, and both commercialises and glamorises war.
In our modern generation most media are a replica of what has been made before. Media is chopped up from all eras, blended together to make something new (all while paying homage to the narrative which informed it. A cycle like this continues, art, at it’s finest, is either retouched, reproduced and referenced and plagiarised. The line between derivative and simple copying has become more blurred leading to the debate of inspirations vs imitation. It can therefore be said that Banksy’s artwork Napalm girl is not necessarily Plagiarism but rather Intertextuality. Intertextuality is defined as the shaping of one text’s meaning through other texts, either through referencing or by borrowing and transforming that work into something different. Banksy is finding a way to express his opinions through iconic images to the masses. He likes the political edge of his work. His artworks and various street artists use their art to start revolutions mass movements. Banksy uses art as a weapon. Ordinary artists use politics in order to get to galleries while Banksy does the opposite. Napalm girl is on the inspiration side rather than the imitation part because as a vandal artist you’re recognising your influences and creating something new through those ideas and expressing them. Plagiarism has negative connotation which is why Banksy’s Napalm girl should be considered intertextuality. Weak imitations borders plagiarism when it reminds people of the superior original. Instead, when transforming someone’s ideas, you change it with your own compelling ideas, thus taking ownership of that new idea.
In conclusion, whether the great Banksy can be considered an artist with amazing talents or just a gimmick plagiarising other marginalized cultures is open to debate. It can’t be denied that he is challenging the norms that reinforce social injustice and inequality by taking power from the hands of the dominant culture. Banksy also tackles social problems in a different way. He/she addresses these problems through humour. Viewers start thinking of the message more often due to laughing at it. This could be the best way to get people talking about certain issues through the power of comedy.
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