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The writing on the wall

A statue of Justice-in-suspenders is the latest act of adolescent rebellion from London's guerrilla graffiti artist.

Josie Appleton

Topics Culture

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Guerrilla graffiti artist Banksy has struck again, this time leaving a six-metre-high statue of the figure of Justice dressed as a prostitute on London’s Clerkenwell Green (1).

The statue’s robes lie open to reveal a thong, long black boots, and suspenders; and a gold plaque reading ‘trust no-one’ adorns its base. Banksy describes his work as ‘the most honest depiction of British justice currently on display in the capital’, and he dedicates it to Kevin Callan, a man was wrongly jailed for murdering his girlfriend’s daughter.

Most of Banksy’s work is an adolescent snubbing of the nose at authority, making his point then escaping in the night before the teachers can catch him. That his urban interventions have won him fame and fortune is a sad reflection on our times.

Banksy began spraying as a 14-year-old schoolboy in Bristol, and said that it’s ‘about retribution’, getting your own back on those in power. ‘If you don’t own a train company then you go and paint on one instead. It all comes from that thing at school when you had to have name tags in the back of something – that makes it belong to people.’ (2)

His pieces subvert convention, spraying rats climbing on a notice for ‘Anti-climb paint’, putting models of birds on CCTV cameras, putting up a sign for ‘designated riot area’ on the base of Nelson’s column, or ‘official graffiti area’ on the side of establishment buildings (3). Some of the work is witty, poking fun at stuck-up official orders. Some is poignant, such as one elegant stencil of a girl letting go of a balloon. But it all remains within the childish boundaries of the classroom, mocking authority because you’re not able to properly challenge it.

Banksy has become something of an icon: he is pursued for media interviews, his paintings are reputed to sell for £10,000 each, he designed the cover of a Blur album, and is repeatedly hassled by companies such as Nike to advertise their products. The reason for his fame is because he chimes with today’s evasive and ironic political culture, which takes a similar nose-snubbing approach to authority. Banksy, the man who never shows his face and who spends all his time trying not to get caught, has become a figure for our anti-heroic times.

So it is perhaps appropriate that he chose Clerkenwell Green for his latest intervention, the site of radical left-wing demonstrations of the past. In a place where people once stood up and took the ruling powers to task, Banksy dresses them up in suspenders.

(1) Guerrilla artist in statue stunt, BBC News, 4 August 2004

(2) Something to spray, Guardian, 17 July 2004

(3) See the http://www.banksy.co.uk/

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Topics Culture

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