Banksy, is an anonymous street artist who has utilized a variety of art mediums ranging from graffiti stencil art to sculptures to gain the attention of people on a global scale. He is believed to be born in Bristol, England in the 1970s and has remained a steady force in the graffiti/underground art scene for over 20 years. All while maintaining loyal to his message of disapproval of issues that negatively impact humanity. It is because of his consistent aim to enlighten his fellow global citizens on issues such government corruption, oppressive forces, and world hunger that illustrate his qualities of a public intellectual. Although he does not provide the answers to these issues, he commands the attention of others through his artwork, which seamlessly forces people to critically think about how horrible these issues are. This also serves as a reminder for some by making them feel a little uncomfortable to truly have them reawaken themselves to how important these issues are to no longer be brushed under the rug. Therefore, it is because of his influence, method of cleverly displaying his art, and bravery to get his message across, that truly enforces his role as a public intellectual in today’s society.
Banksy started out creating graffiti art throughout the 90s but really made an impact on the art scene when he switched to creating artwork using stencils in the early 2000s. He did a lot of his work publicly at different street walls and other easily visible spaces. However, since he never had permission at the time he created those pieces, they were done illegally and considered vandalism. For this reason, he used the stencil to help maximize the limited amount of time he had to create quality work and avoid being caught by authorities.
Although Banksy’s artwork carried depth and meaning, the simple fact that they were done without permission made him an easy target for arrest. Therefore, as another layer of security, he has remained set on concealing his identity to the world since he first began creating art. There are many reasons behind his desire to remain secretive. For one, as a graffiti artist, one does not have the same appreciation by society as an artist whose paintings are displayed in an elegant art gallery. As a result, there is no real place in society for graffiti art, other than being criminalized as vandalism on a wall. For this reason, it is necessary for Bansky to refrain from prison, which would halt his artistic productions. If he is free, then he will be able to sustain his purpose of bringing awareness to people in hopes of creating meaningful change for a better quality of life. The fact that he has been able to keep his true identity unknown for over 20 years adds to the anticipation of his every move. This continues to bring in more hype to his work, which maximizes the audience the message reaches.
While Banksy was born in England, it may seem as though his messages does not reach a large population. However, he has painted his artwork all over the world in places such as Britain, New York, London, Palestine, and Los Angeles, just to name a few. Since his artwork is on the streets vs. art galleries, it reaches a larger demographic which elevates the importance of his work. Furthermore, his anonymity brings an added dimension that brings a lot more buzz around his art. The mystery behind his identity itself makes his art pieces more intriguing and in turn it draws more attention to the focus of his work.
When taking a look at some of Banksy’s pieces, you can tell that there is some sort of common theme of antiestablishment. For instance, the piece to the left depicts a protester throwing what should be a Molotov cocktail towards what might be police officers. Instead, there is a beautiful bouquet of flowers that offers an alternative method in going about voicing one’s distain of a situation; particularly against government. While Banksy does not seem to have a problem with protesting, he does seem to show disapproval with fighting violence with violence. He does not want pe
ople to fight hate with hate and spread negative energy in the world. He does however; want people to protest in a more peaceful and constructive way in order for them to successfully have their voices heard by their oppressor. Bansky seems to believe that change will come when people fight peacefully instead of risk arrest by trying to spread their message in a destructive manner. This piece serves as a small representation that highlights Banksy’s support for resisting an oppressive and unfair government but in more strategic ways. He demonstrates a key characteristic of a public intellectual in offering sound advice the oppressed on a serious public matter. His encouragement of protesting to defend your beliefs but in productive and peaceful way, illustrate his commitment to the livelihood of society at large.
Another example of the political messages he has in his art pieces is the one below, which reads “IF AT FIRST YOU DON’T SUCCEED – CALL AN AIRSTRIKE.” The piece is self explanatory, but his interesting choice of the alarming color red and having each letter be written in uppercase really makes the piece pop. It is hard to ignore if you were walking down the street, which allows for the message to be easily seen. Banksy seems to
be making a statement on many nations who target weaker ones and exploit them in some way. He is commenting on those instances when powerful countries have opposition from the weaker ones, they tend to resort to extreme measures, such as airstrikes, to accomplish their goals. As a result, many innocent men, women, children and elderly people are injured and killed from attacks like these. It really brings into question who the real terrorists are. It is these types of critical issues that Banksy is trying to bring to light with his artwork. He uses the unconventional spaces of the streets to capture his audience and get them to think about topics that might make them feel uncomfortable, but all in reason.
What is truly alluring about Bansky’s artistic talents is that even in the pieces that seem to be simplistic, still carry a great deal of meaning behind them. Bansky does not need to utilize grandiose techniques in his work in order to grab individual’s attention. In the piece shown below, one’s attention is immediately drawn to the large, bold, white letters that read, “ONE NATION UNDER CCTV.” While this art piece was completed in London, it seems to also be related to the United States with use of a familiar phrase. Bansky seems to pulled from one of the most significant songs in U.S. history; the National Anthem. As the National Anthem holds much significance to our birth of nation, it also serves a reminder of our quest for freedom from an oppressive British government.
Given the political implications of liberty, Banksy cleverly employs this phrase to critically comment of the lack of freedom we have as a result of increased surveillance of citizens. You can decipher this message and uncover its reference to surveillance with the letters “CCTV” that stands for “Closed Circuit TV;” which is simply video security camera. His comment comes in response to an initiative carried out by the National Security Agency after the September 11th terrorist attacks. Although this heightened level of vigilance is meant to protect American citizens, it seems to actually infringe on our civil rights and liberties before we are actually proven to have committed a crime. It appears illogical to have policy that ensures the freedom of suspected criminals through requiring search warrants in order to search the belongings and private property, but fail to have restrictions in the accessibility of our cyber information. While our cyber information is one aspect of the NSA’s mission of surveillance, it is perhaps the most controversial given the increased relevance of the Internet on American society. As our information is being accessed by a group of people we do not know, let alone did not consent to their searches of your information, it seems to strip us of the liberty our nation boisterously promotes. Therefore, Banksy is trying to emphasize the idea that the watchful eye of the government is actually impeding our freedom and civil rights as American citizens.
It is Banksy’s commitment to exposing the injustices in society to a global audience that truly solidifies his status as a public intellectual. However, while his message of love and equity in humanity that would label him as a public intellectual, he earns the title because of his clever choice of medium to spread knowledge and awareness about critical global issues. Often times people are somewhat aware of the issues in the world, but when you have easily accessible visualizations of current world issues, it makes it all the more difficult to ignore. Instead of continuously brushing these problems off, the art pieces help one to not feel so detached from the issue by being displayed directly in your face. This truly helps reinforces the significance of the problem at hand. Banksy is the epitome of a public intellectual as he employs his artistic abilities to raise awareness of vital issues in hopes of creating sustainable change for future generations. His care and patience in relentlessly trying to improve societal problems reflect the qualities of a true public intellectual.
In addition, what doubtlessly reinforces Banksy as a public intellectual, is his bravery to touch issues that many are afraid to speak on. Especially in calling out government corruption on such a public platform brings a sense of danger as has been in the case with some governments. For example, America and its intelligence agencies that were responsible for assassination of civil right activist Martin Luther King Jr. To touch issues of government corruption can make someone a target with the purpose to silence them. Bansky shows bravery in relentlessly risking his personal liberty to vandalism street walls and get his important message out. This is what a public intellectual really is, someone who will care enough about the greater good of others by going though great lengths in order to spread awareness of dire issues that impact humanity. Being a public intellectual does not always mean having a formal education or a certain sophisticated demeano; they come in many interesting forms. As Stephen Mack puts it, “our notions of the public intellectual need to focus less on who or what a public intellectual is—and by extension, the qualifications for getting and keeping the title.” It is clear that Banksy has been a consistent force in creating various forms of artwork for over 20 years. It is this longstanding effort to try and educate the masses of global issues, illustrates how he has worked to prove he deserves the title of a public intellectual year after year.