‘We can’t do anything to change the world until capitalism crumbles. In the meantime we should all go shopping to console ourselves.’
Iconic, instantly recognizable, and caustically humorous, the work of legendary street artist Banksy continues to shock and satirize today. Featured in Barely Legal, Banksy’s seminal 2006 exhibition in Los Angeles that triggered widespread acclaim and recognition for the artist, Trolley Hunters is the perfect incarnation of Banksy’s distinctive marriage of street art, graffiti and satire. Featuring three prehistoric men in a desert, the atmosphere of Trolley Hunters is both eerie and lighthearted, its illustrative style belying the acerbic humor and depth of meaning of the painting. Holding various weapons, the three men pictured are poised to attack. The targets of their attack are, in typical Banksy fashion, trolleys – or shopping carts. The poignancy of the resulting work is twofold; firstly in its timeless critique of capitalism, and secondly in its unique and unexpected resonance today.
PHOTO BY AFP VIA GETTY IMAGES
The trolley, comic in its incongruity, nods to our consumer society’s predilection for, and reliance on, highly processed, branded packaged food products, and our inability to fend for ourselves. Grouped like antelope in a field, the barren nature of the landscape in which we find these alien carts nods to our willingness to ship foods and other commodities all over the planet to be picked up whenever convenient by the consumer in the aisles of big chain supermarkets. With sardonic wit, Banksy juxtaposes his trolleys with a trio of Neanderthal hunter-gatherers, thereby shining a critical light on how far we as human beings have deviated from our base instincts, and abilities.
BARBARA KRUGER, UNTITLED (I SHOP THEREFORE I AM), 1987
ART © 2021 BARBARA KRUGER
From political cartoons to Duchampian sculptures, satire has long pervaded art and its history, and Banksy is the preeminent contemporary successor to this tradition, having earned a cult following for his subversive stenciled street pieces. Operating now both in- and out-side of the establishment, Banksy’s works exist on the boundary, courting mass appeal whilst commenting vociferously on potentially marginalizing political and cultural issues. Beyond its satirical antecedents however, the present work recalls works such as Gustave Courbet’s The Stone Breakers (1849), the paradigm shifting Realist work that demonstrated the plight of rural laborers in Nineteenth Century France, whose existence would have felt prehistoric to the Parisians who would have seen Courbet’s painting. Banksy toys with the shock of association, the equivalence afforded to the caveman and the viewer, whilst drawing attention to our distance from the land that sustains us.
BARELY LEGAL IN LOS ANGELES, 2006
© BANKSY 2021
On this approach, author James Brassett has noted: “Central to Banksy’s work is an attempt to re-frame global issues through the use of irony, and ironic inversion. His work interrupts mainstream narratives of global ethics, of an unfair world that needs reform, by juxtaposing familiar icons of western capitalism (for example Disney, Ronald McDonald) with icons of western imperialism (for example bombed villagers in Vietnam)… Banksy may not provide ready solutions to some of the problems he identifies, but he certainly provides credible pointers as to the kinds of power structures and hypocrisy that global ethical agendas must contend with.” (James Brassett, “British Irony, Global Justice: A Pragmatic Reading of Chris Brown, Banksy and Ricky Gervais,” Review of International Studies, Vol. 35, No. 1, January 2009, pp. 232-33).