Tête à tête: Has Banksy sold out?


Ibtisam Ahmed says YES

At this moment, Banksy, the great recluse and sole artiste (with an e, thank you) whose preferred medium is graffiti, is being celebrated with a series of auctions, a gallery retrospectiveby one of his former acquaintances and a series of LEGO recreations. It is a sign of the movement he represents that the last of the three should be the most fitting tribute. In reality, however, Banksy is no longer as subversive as we would like him to be.

This is because rebellion has been made mainstream, and it is difficult for anyone as radical as him to maintain their vision for such a long time. Punk fashion went from being about deconstructing boundaries to being taken up by designer labels as a theme. The intellectual left became radicalised to the point where they are either misunderstood or submissive. With Banksy, his co-option by the so-called practitioners of “high art” happened the minute it became unforgiveable to paint over his work.

For the record, on a purely amateur basis of understanding art, I can admire the beauty in his work. If I take the politics out of it, I can objectively agree with the idea of putting his work in the Tate Modern. At the very least, I can agree with the decision to keep his work intact. The problem is that Banksy is supposed to be so much more than that.

His pieces tackle very heavy topics; the surveillance state (One Nation Under CCTV), the Arab-Israeli conflict (murals on the West Bank Barrier), and sexual health (Naked Man) are all areas he has looked at. As an outspoken critic of capitalism, his entire process is based on the idea of taking over public space, a form of guerrilla warfare against the class system in which the elites have to come face-to-face with eyesores. While individual critics do resort to calling him a vandal, Banksy’s art is among the most sought-after pieces in the contemporary world. He wants to help dismantle capitalism. Good for him. I wonder how well he is achieving it when his pieces are being so shamelessly commoditised.

At the same time, graffiti as a whole is still considered vandalism, which is one of the loudest, and weakest, arguments against the dismantling (or relocation) of the skate park in South Bank. It would be wrong of me to say that Banksy has directly sold himself out. At the end of the day though, it does not matter. As soon as his work went from being “graffiti” to “art”, we lost him.



Milo Barnett says NO 

Banksy is the most popular and sought out artist in 21st Century Britain and indeed the world. His works have tried to express what he sees in contemporary Britain, which is not only stinging but resonates with disillusioned people as well. Whether this is an authoritarian police state or the rise of consumer society dominated by brands and global business, we are yet to fully discover.

Yet recent ironic trends with Banksy’s work being sold off to the highest bidder…the same companies that used to critique his work now own it. His work due to its nature means that it can be claimed and sold off with ease. Banksy wishes to keep his art for the public and therefore his artistic integrity needs to actively promote his art rather than giving up on it once the paints dry. Artists need to commit to his or her work and if you let it get bought by a bank than you aren’t doing enough.

Banksy’s artistic bold and original style has also become very mainstream by his popularity and shown by how much it can be sold for. He needs to shake up his art so
that his attacks can be more effective and can show people the true nature of this nation state. An artist needs to have integrity especially one which cry’s out against the
corporate nature of Britain and the art of the YBA set.

Banksy is an artist for the public and being a public artist means one has to protect their art from those that seek to make a few quid for it. This means that we as a society should be protecting it whether that’s keeping it where it was created or moving it to a gallery for it to be preserved for future generations.

Yet Banksy hasn’t condoned the selling of it and by ignoring it he becomes part of the problem. He has numerous options with this whether that is setting up his own
gallery or indeed just donating it to the public. My main argument is that art, especially public art, belongs to the public and we need to act. He is widely admired and if he wishes to remain so has to act as his art doesn’t have legitimacy if it appears that he has sold out as an artist. Artist are meant to convey the emotions of people and the time; and their art preserves these emotions and yet they remain silent if they simply remain locked up in Canary Wharf.



Header Photo: flickr/canonsnapper

Footer Photo: flickr/niznoz

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