Banksy in Bethlehem: Art and The Barrier Between Two Nations
Banksy’s visit to the West Bank brought up a string of controversy, on both sides. His art, however, remains appropriately controversial and intriguing.
The first article in this series, Urban Graffiti as Art: Banksy, looked at the work, in the UK, of the enigma known as the self dubbed “art terrorist” Banksy.
His art always make a not-so-subtle social statement. His rats, perhaps, representing the “rat race” of modern society.
To any graffiti artist, an unadorned wall takes on the temptation of an artist’s easel.
When Israel built the controversial 436 mile long security barrier to separate itself from the Palestinian Authority controlled areas, they might as well have sent out an invitation to Banksy at the same time!
He is quoted by The Mail Online as saying: “The segregation wall is a disgrace…The possibility I find exciting is that you could turn the world’s most invasive and degrading structure into the world’s longest gallery of free speech and bad art.” A UK television station, Channel 4, ran a news item quoting Banksy’s attitude to the wall: “It turns Palestine into the world’s largest open prison,” and described the wall as “the ultimate Graffiti Artists’ holiday destination.”
So with this huge canvas available, Banksy took his “holiday” in 2005.
Whilst probably not the safest place to carry out such a bold undertaking; with his prepared stencils, he probably got away with it because of the speed in which he was able to do it.
On his website Banksy recalled one incident when he was approached by some soldiers:
“Soldier: ‘What the f*** are you doing?’
Banksy: ‘You’ll have to wait ‘til it’s finished’
Soldier (to colleagues): ‘Safetys off…’”
This is only one part of the approximately 6 mile long stretch of the walled section of the security barrier. The remaining is predominantly fencing and creates a border between the Palestinian Authority controlled areas and Israel, as one of the starting points in a workable two-state solution.
What drove him to take the risk of either Palestinian police or Israeli soldiers potentially opening fire?
Rachel Campbell Johnson, art critic for The Times Online, offers the following explanation, “[The wall is] like a red rag to a bull. You’re going to want to cover it in work. Also it may be a publicity stunt in a way. But to have a politically repressive situation to react against is enormously important for many artists. It gives them something to react against; something to give meaning and importance to their work.”
Is it simply a publicity stunt? If so, who is the publicity for? For himself? For the existence of the wall, or the people on both sides cut off by the wall?
There will always be issues to debate. Of the wall itself, Israel claims it is a security measure. The Palestinian Authority claims that it is an attempt to grab land.
However he also recounts that an old man came up to him and told him that he was making the wall look beautiful. Banksy thanked him. The old man replied, “We don’t want it to be beautiful. We hate that wall. Go away.”
The publicity was, however, still appreciated. In 2007, Banksy and several other graffiti artists were invited to produce works in Bethlehem as part of an exhibition.
Through his PR spokeswoman Banksy said that he hoped the art would “attract tourists to Bethlehem.”
Banksy still remains anonymous. The words attributed to him were originally sourced from his website or spokesperson.
All images are from Flickr.
There are MANY more articles on Banksy by this writer, including
All can be found at