Famed street artist, Banksy, hosted a three-day event showcasing his numerous works as well as a painted live elephant from Sept. 15 to 17.
A lone alley known as Hunter Street lies off of Santa Fe Street in an industrial area of downtown Los Angeles. The alley is lined by dingy old warehouses, only a block away from a strip club. At the end of the alley there was a beat-up, white delivery style truck, parked. Emblazoned on the side of the truck, in bold black letters, was “Banksy.”
A sweltering hot, musky warehouse completed the scenery, by hosting Banksy’s free three-day show, “Barely Legal.”
More than 20 pieces of Banksy’s work were on display, including a live Indian elephant that was painted from head to toe to match a floral patterned living room setting, complete with a coffee table, chairs and chandelier.
Banksy, whose true identity remains unknown, was not on hand to discuss his work. Peter Bowes of BBC News stated, “It is understood that the elephant, blending into the background, is meant to represent the big issues in life, such as poverty, that some people choose to ignore.”
Keeping with Banksy’s secret identity, the location of the showing was only disclosed on the day of the premiere to the public. The night before, an invitation-only celebrity launch party was held, where it was reported that Cameron Diaz, Colin Farrell, Orlando Bloom, Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie attended.
The showing was billed as a “vandalized warehouse extravaganza,” having an overall theme of global poverty and injustice.
Banksy’s work is deeply rooted in politics and pop culture, something that started in his early days as a graffiti artist in England.
At the entrance to the exhibit a sign read “smash the system;” adjacent to it, a surplus police SWAT van lay in the center of the warehouse.
On one side of the van, a painting of Dorothy from “The Wizard of Oz” held a noose, while the other side illustrated a police SWAT team with weapons drawn. They stood in a line, followed by a small boy about to pop an inflated paper bag. On the back door of the van hung a representation of two male British police embraced in a passionate kiss.
Large paintings hung from the ceiling, suspended by chains. One depicted an image of Mother Teresa with the message, “I learnt a valuable lesson from this women moisturize everyday.”
Along the back wall of the warehouse, next to the living room set, hung altered thrift store-bought paintings. One shows a beautiful beach at sunset. While waves crash ashore in the background, a prisoner kneels down in an orange jumpsuit. His hands are shackled, his face bound and covered by a black hood.
In a room to the right of the SWAT van, an eight-minute video was projected on the wall. The video documented all the pranks Banksy is famous for, one of them being secretly hanging his own work in major galleries in New York and London.
The video also included footage of his latest prank on Paris Hilton. Banksy produced 500 altered copies of Hilton’s album and hid them throughout record stores in England. On the cover, the album appears the same. It is only when Hilton fans open the CD jacket that they find a photo of the heiress topless with the head of a dog. Instead of her bubble gum-pop tracks, the altered CD included 40 minutes of remix music by Danger Mouse, one-half of the famed Gnarls Barkley.
The sticker on the front of the album advertises its hits, ranging from “Why am I Famous?” “What Have I Done?” and “What am I for?”
Copies of the faux album have been receiving high bids on eBay, where one commanded the price of $938.
During his brief stay in Los Angeles, Banksy managed to pull another stunt by placing a life-size blow-up doll of a Guantanamo Bay detainee inside the Big Thunder Mountain Railroad ride at Disneyland, causing a temporary disruption in the popular attraction.
The doll wore an orange jumpsuit, a black hood and shackles on its hands and feet as seen in one of the artist’s paintings. The stunt was meant to highlight the condition of terrorism suspects held at the controversial Cuban detention center.
On the last day of Banksy’s exhibit, 2,000 people stood in line, waiting eagerly to get a glimpse of the show. The exhibit drew huge controversy over Tai, the painted Indian elephant, who was ordered by L.A. city officials to be cleaned of the paint on the final day of the show. According to the Associated Press, the L.A. Animal Services’ officials said that they would never again issue permits for such a “frivolous” purpose, even though the animal’s owner, Kari Johnson, claimed that Tai, the 38-year-old Indian elephant, wasn’t hurt in any way. The paint was nontoxic and the elephant is “used to make-up.”
Even without Tai’s colorful wardrobe, Banksy’s art continued to make many question their viewpoints and morals.
Banksy’s work conveys a deep meaning. Through his art and stunts his is consistently reminding the public about issues they forget about or choose to ignore.
Poverty, injustice, crime, and mass marketing to youth are all center points of his creations, allowing the spectator to see the world for what it really is.
Provoking emotions and opinions is a trait many great artists have strived for. If his piece on Mother Teresa, Tai the elephant or his Hilton stunt offended someone, then he did his job.