Banksy and Street Art

Authors: Thomas Dragani and Brendan Murray

Trailer, Exit through the Gift Shop, 2010
 Exit Through The Giftshop-Available on Netflix or via streaming at

[Author: Thomas Dragani]

The Politics of Banksy
Though it is quite the nature of modern day Street Art to be Anarchic in the way that it defies established laws and authority, the English graffiti artist known popularly as Banksy, very much focuses his pieces on making a political statement. Many of Banksy’s works not only appear in defacement of government buildings, but his scenes often depict authority figures (politicians, police, military men) in lampooned and compromising positions. One of the more famous pieces of street art attributed to the phantom artist is a pigtailed girl vandalizing an already defaced wall that suggests telling a lie enough times causes it to become truth, after which she changes ‘truth’ to ‘politics.’ Often times, power figures are seen as aggressive towards the helpless and defenseless, but other times, even the ideals of peace and love can clash with each other in what is supposed to be Banksy’s work. And though these are radical images and ideas to comprehend, perhaps this clouds the artist’s true political voice, and instead leaves it open for social interpretation. No doubt two protesters seemingly fighting for peace and love, but rather fighting each other, says something about the ways in which social activists, and individual politics can clash with the best of intentions. If anything is true, it’s that Banksy is in it for the shock value, as so many of the anarchist, political, and radical artists of old were, to mirror the subversive things about society many may chose to ignore. Back then, they had their canvas and their “salon des refuses;” Banksy has his walls and the world as his gallery and there’s no doubt his pieces call into question the way we look at the world and our place in it, through aesthetics, and surprisingly, the continued illegality of street art.
The Criminality of Street Art
            Still, Banksy also does simple street art projects that are often times not obviously politically or socially motivated, and yet, still illegal, though the debate rages about whether or not street art is a crime or actual art. We know from the course, that a similar debate was had when we first started to see art break away from the traditional methods, forms, and subjects. Banksy is just another in this long succession of artists defying convention, but street art drives an even finer line, for the medium is not owned by the artist themselves, and it begs the question is it any less criminal than simple graffiti. Street art, very unlike plain graffiti, carries with it a strong sense of activism and subversion, which, in his works, Banksy melds perfectly. The legal teams look to try and classify street art into a certain group of crime, but that’s what makes the art form so anarchic, is that it cannot be classified, and moreover, most of which street art subverts (rampant authority, inequalities and injustices) are them selves criminal. So is it a case of one crime existing to replace another? This can be considered by a very many as anarchic. But Banksy himself, almost unsurprisingly states that the goals of the street artist are harmless and much like those who seek to protect us. “Some people become cops because they want to make the world a better place. Some people become vandals be-cause they want to make the world a better looking place.” (Alpaslan 2012) Though street art continues to be a punishable crime if caught, the consensus is that it does not fit the traditional framework of crime, making it successfully subversive and anarchic. 


Alpaslan, Zeynep. “Is Street Art a Crime? An Attempt at Examining Street Art Using Criminology.” Advances in Applied Sociology 2.1 (2012): 53-58. PDF.

Banksy. Website. April 19, 2012.
Banksy. Wall and Piece. London: Random House, 2005. Print.

Collins, Lauren. “Banksy Was Here: The invisible man of graffiti art.” The New Yorker. Condé Nast, 14 May 2007. Web. 23 May 2012.

•Link to New Yorker article:

[Author: Brendan Murray]

“A Force of Nature”
            Exit Through the Gift Shop is the epitome and truly anarchic realization of life imitating art seen through Vivian in Oscar Wilde’s “The Decay of Lying”. Mr. Brainwash/Guetta was not an artist, and had no real desire to be one. He stumbled upon the burgeoning street art movement purely by mistake, and begins to film some of the biggest names in street art, for a supposed documentary. After Guetta’s inital film is deemed unwatchable, the project switches gears. Despite having no reputation or experience in the art world he decides to show his own newly begun street art in a gargantuan exhibition that he has no place in. He doesn’t want to disappoint Banksy, an idea that is repeated often in the movie. This show ends up drawing massive media attention and thousands of visitors on the first day alone. The character and fallout of Mr. Brainwash/ Guetta becomes so large that Banksy then takes some of this footage, as well as new footage/interviews shot in conjunction with the exhibit, and makes Exit Through The Gift Shop, with Guetta as its main subject. The film was a view of  Guetta’s life imitating and becoming his art.
            The film also brings to mind Wilde’s preface to The Picture of Dorian Gray in which he clarifies distinction of the creator of art from its subject. Banky’s film causes massive speculation that brings this idea into question once again. Because Banksy is never actually identified and his voice is disguised, questions arise about his relationship to Guetta/Mr. Brainwash, and whether they are the same person, with many believing the film is all a hoax. There are also questions surrounding the veracity of Guetta’s persona as an obsessive, almost insane individual. All parties echo that the film is not a hoax, that Guetta and Banksy are, in fact, separate people, but there is no real way to discern this. Banksy has still yet to reveal his identity, due to the fact that his art is often in what he calls a “legal gray area”. These two anarchic constructs, the imitation of art by life, and the “hoax” rumors, along with a fascinating duo in Banksy and Guetta, make this a fascinating documentary.

Scholarly Material
An article found through Google Scholar to an essay that explores the film and its ties to authenticity.
Links for Further Exploration
The website for acclaimed street artist and director of Exit Through The Gift Shop. Features his own street art and his thoughts on some questions he is frequently asked
The website for Thierry Guetta/Mr. Brainwash, featuring his art, video clips, and his own archives
Archival Material
“Banksy” image-An example of Banksy’s street art, accessed via his website.

    “Brainwash” image- An example of Mr. Brainwash’s art, shown at his exhibiton “Life is Beautiful” profiled in Exit Through the Gift Shop

·      Bibliogrophy for Further Research
Ebert, Roger. "Exit Through The Gift Shop." Weblog post. Chicago Sun Times, 28 Apr. 2010. Web. 20 Apr. 2012. <>.
·      A review of the film by Roger Ebert, famous Chigao Sun-Times critic. Also explores the idea of a hoax and the value of graffiti or street art as "Art"
"Exit Through The Gift Shop-IMDB." IMBD. Web. 22 Apr. 2012. <>.
·      A synthesis of information on the film including cast, production details, reviews, and quotes.
"Exit Through The Gift Shop-Rotten Tomatoes." Web. 23 Apr. 2012.
·      A review site that contains information on the film and links to reviews from major critics as well as trailers and fan reviews.
FRC. "News." Exit Through The Gift Shop: A Banksy Film (2010) FrontRoomCinema. Web. 23 Apr. 2012. <>.
·      A review of the film that explores the idea of the film as life imitating art.
Ryzik, Melena. "New Doubts for a Film That Has Truth Issues." New York Times. 5 Jan. 2011. Web. 20 Apr. 2012. <>.
·      This article explores the role Joachim Levy had on the initial project "Life Remote Control", Guetta's project that was deemed unwatchable, and what he is owed. Also touches on the idea that the movie may or may not be a hoax
Ryzik, Melena. "Riddle? Yes. Enigma? Sure. Documentary?" New York Times. 13 Apr. 2010. Web. 19 Apr. 2012. <>.
·       This article explores whether the movie, and its depiction of Guetta as an obsessive, almost insane individual is authentic, a commentary on the authentic, a complete fabrication, or some combination of these. It also looks into whether Guetta could be the actual Banksy, whose face is never shown in the video, and this is all another piece of elaborate art.

No comments:

Post a Comment