Mona Lisa with Bazooka, Soho, London, 2001
Mona Lisa is seen as an ideal of femininity and serenity. Yet Banksy puts the viewer in front of two seemingly incompatible worlds: how can Mona Lisa smile in such a gentle manner while simultaneously carrying such a powerful weapon of destruction? Obviously, it is a metaphor of the stance of our Western societies being fully satisfied fueling wars while they keep their distance, blind of the consequences on civil populations, such as the British elite playing with bombs in Bomb Middle England.
Banksy, Banging Your Head Against a Brick Wall, November 2001
9. Precision Bombing
Precision Bombing depicts a group of men in suits walking towards what seems to be a sports car. The vehicle is being targeted by a green precision range finder and scope.
The background of this painting was released in a number of different colors (exact number unknown).
Precision bombing is a well-defined war strategy referring to the aerial bombing of a target with some degree of accuracy, with the aim of maximizing target damage and limiting collateral damage. Precision bombing was initially tried during World War I, however it was found to be ineffective because the technology at the time did not allow for sufficient accuracy. Since World War I, the development and adoption of various types of guided munitions has greatly increased the accuracy of aerial bombing. Because the accuracy achieved in bombing is dependent on the available technology, the “precision” of precision bombing is relative to the time period. Precision has always been recognized as an important attribute of weapon development. Obviously, the consequence that Banksy underlines is that it becomes a game played at a safe distance, participating to the trivialization of warfare.
75×75 cm (29 1/2 x 29 1/2 inches)
Banksy released his Duck & Cover through Gross Domestic Product in 2019.
In this humorous take on the classic 1970s interior decoration stereotype of the three flying ducks, Banksy has made three small scale models of unmanned drones that can be affixed to a wall. Shown in a duck formation, however, Banksy has replaced gentle birds with lethal weapons – the very weapons Western societies now use to kill and destroy targets from the safety and comfort of their own base.
In Duck & Cover, the artist comments on the damage incurred from the extensive fighting in the Middle East that has persisted throughout much of his lifetime. Through the advancement of weapons technology, these conflicts have become more brutal (and impersonal) than ever.
Now, weapons can be operated from many, many miles away – which makes the violence less “real” to the people waging this war, in a sense because they are not forced to see the consequences of their actions firsthand. They’re able to carry out mass destruction from the safety and comfort of a location far away; it’s almost as easy as ordering something off the internet.
Finally, to conclude our discussion about Precision Bombing, Banksy is not afraid to use another bit of shocking imagery in one of his more controversial images – this time, as shown in the Walled-Off Hotel, Jesus Christ is himself is the target, and he’s got a laser from a sniper squarely in the middle of his forehead.
Walled-Off Hotel, Palestine
10. Birds, Elephants, and Mosquitos
With Bird and Grenade, Banksy offers another striking visual that makes it virtually impossible for the average viewer to remain ambivalent. Just like Bomb Hugger, this beautiful, innocent creature is carrying a grenade in its beak. The bird is eerily joyful despite the fact that the pin could be pulled simply from the gravity of the grenade hanging from its mouth. All of this taking place in the forefront of an otherwise terribly pleasant countryside scene – another classic Banksy “a-ha, not so fast, my friends” moment.
Oil and spray enamel on found canvas
68.5×99 cm (27×39 inches)
Dumbo, mostly left black and white, save for his corn-yellow watercolor hat, depicts a disoriented and woozy Dumbo lying on the ground as the extremists celebrate on top of and around him.
Dumbo, the iconic elephant created by Disney, is an example of the American cultural export – this time serving as a metaphor for American planes sent to the Middle East to to fight Islamic extremists.
Hand-painted watercolor on screen-print
Dumbo is a very rare print that originally came from a film Banksy created as part of his New-York residency Better Out Than In.
Rebel Rocket Attack, a short video released on Banksy‘s website, depicts Islamic militants using rocket launchers to bring down Dumbo, the iconic Disney elephant. After Dumbo has been shot out of the sky, a small child kicks one of the older extremists at the end of the video. The following statement from Banksy was released along with the video,
Commenters of the clip believed it “reflects the way we’ve been granted an insight into the Syrian conflict through videos uploaded onto the internet.”
Spray-paint and emulsion on perforated card, mounted on board
80×90 cm (31 1/2 x 35 3/8 inches)
In Mosquito, Banksy doubles the pleasure. In this work, a mosquito with large wings and a gas mask is represented against a mosaic-like montage of Queen Elizabeth’s portrait with the same gas mask against her face. This image of the Queen is also the same one Banksy used for his provocative and controversial Monkey Queen artwork executed in 2003.
It is painted as a flying combatant in action, swooping down to attack any human that might get in his way. However, in a very ironic turn, if a gas mask covered the insect’s head, it would actually prevent it from hurting anybody, or from receiving the blood it needs to survive.
Mosquito is a brilliant example of Banksy’s criticism of authority, violence and militarism. A large part of Banksy‘s street art pieces, screen prints and canvases mock militarism so as to denounce the trivialization of violence. It seems perhaps, in this case, it is the mosquito who needs protection from human beings.
In such work, Banksy directly questions and criticizes the role governments and authorities play in glorifying and popularizing violence, as well as the involvement of “big money” and the capitalist machine in such military operations. Animals like the mosquito appear often throughout Banksy’s images to address various social issues. They usually symbolize the working class and the suffering masses vis-à-vis the elite and authorities.
11. Crazy Horses
This installation is most probably the most politically charged piece created by Banksy during his New York residency, Better Out Than In. It presents a complex visual dynamic with armed men in the crosshairs of a scope, horses wearing night vision goggles, coupled with the audio of an air strike when people called into a toll free number they were directed to.
Crazy Horses Riding Through The Lower East Side to a Wikileaks Soundtrack
159 Ludlow Street, between Stanton and Rivington Street, New York
A distinguishing feature of this piece is that no part of it is actually on a wall: it is rendered entirely on the sides of an abandoned car and a truck, adding impressive visual depth.
But the real strength of this work resides in the accompanying audio…
The 1-800 number takes the caller to a 39-minute recording of a 2007 airstrike in Baghdad.
The listener can clearly hear the racket of gun turrets and radio communications between soldiers requesting permission to engage fire on groups of civilians.
The audio comes from the infamous Collateral Murder video released to WikiLeaks by Chelsea Manning in 2010. The 17-minute horror show depicts U.S. soldiers killing children and civilians in Iraq who were trying to rescue wounded Iraqi combatants. The sound taken for the Banksy piece starts comes around the 12-minute mark.