Many graphic designers and those who teach in this field will surely agree with me that in this profession a good idea is the key. A number of years ago, when I was still a student, I remember I was quite impressed by this poster:
Not because it is exceptionally beautiful (it isn’t) but because it forced to think about how many objects that surround us in everyday life are made by children or people treated like slaves. The poster is simple but sends a strong message.
Good ideas and strong messages are the trademark of Banksy – on of the most intriguing artists of the 21st century. Banksy is famous, the most important news agencies report about his artistic undertakings but till this day no one really knows what his real identity is.
The main themes of his works are different kinds of social problems, poverty, globalization, capitalism. He mocks the Queen as a representative of conservative part of the society, he also pokes fun at the law enforcement institutions. Before he gained fame he was considered a vandal and chased by the police, as he puts his artwork in the streets, in public space. At first he was active in Great Britain only but then he moved to other countries, placing his art in even more unusual and dangerous places. Banksy works with stencils – they are much quicker in execution and easier to make than traditional graffiti. They can be prepared beforehand and spraying them on the wall doesn’t take much time, which was a key issue for the artist, as it helped in keeping his anonymity. The most controversial pieces by Banksy were created on the wall separating Palestinian Territory and Israel. I talked once with a student who lives not far from the said wall, on Israeli side. She said that despite what the media reported, Banksy’s works were on both sides of the wall, it’s just that the Israelites quickly got rid of it. In any case, it was a very dangerous place for such artistic undertaking. Every hundred or so meters there are guard towers, military patrols and the soldiers are authorized to open fire at any moment. Anyone who saw these, or other works by Banksy will surely admit they are ‘cool’. But did you ever spare some time to really dwell on them and understand their underlying messages?
Banksy is one of my favourite artists and I will return to him on many occasions but today I chose his one, specific project:
It depicts two poor and starving boys, probably from Africa. One of them is holding a bucket and is wearing a ragged t-shirt with ‘I hate Mondays’ on it. No one does – you have to go to work and stuff. And this boy is probably no exception – except he is a child. The piece refers, like the mentioned before poster, to the issue of child labour. Additionally, the English/American t-shirt hints at globalization, its influences and given the poverty around – also its consequences. The colourful caption is completely out of place in this gray reality. The picture fits perfectly Banksy’s style. It is an obvious critique on globalization, capitalism and interventions of rich countries in the Third World politics.
And is that all? Let’s take a closer look: the most visible part of the whole piece is the caption ‘I hate Mondays’. It sounds kind a familiar, as if a melody…Yes! ‘I Don’t Like Mondays’ is a song which could be heard in every radio station by the end of the 70s and beginning of 80s. It’s catchy and everybody hummed it on their way to work. The song was performed by Boomtown Rats and written by Bob Geldof, the lead singer.
But Geldof isn’t only a musician. In context of Banksy’s works, he is also a social activist and businessman, who in July 1985 organized charity concerts ‘Live Aid’ in London and Philadelphia, to fight famine in Ethiopia. For this he was nominated to Nobel Peace Prize and in 1986 the British Queen gave him the Order of British Empire, making him at the same time a nobleman.
I remember those concerts, they were transmitted all over the world. At one point a small ‘accident’ occurred. At the end of Chumbewamba’s (rather unfortunately invited by Geldof) gig, the vocalist shouted to the millions on the audience ‘Photos of starving children splendidly sell albums’. They tried to cover up the incident but the singer was right.
After years, Live Aid was called something along the lines of an attempt to save falling stars. The thing was, that mostly rich, outdated rock stars were invited to participate. Their album sales were dwindling and they needed fresh promotion. For this purpose ‘Live Aid’ seemed to be an ideal opportunity. Among the ‘fallen’ stars were Elvis Costello, Tina Turner and famous for his lavishness Elton John, who for instance ordered for his performances thousands of plush toys.
It is a fact that after Live Aid many of those forgotten artists came back into the spotlight. It is also true that the charity concerts in London and Philadelphia raised 245 millions of dollars. There were 30 millions of those in need, starving, so it is an easy math to do – in the end it was $8 per person.
In 2010, BBC published a report according to which the money from the charity did not go to starving Ethiopians but was used to buy weapons. These revelations were confirmed by CIA – in their report they stated that a part of the sum was destined for military purposes. Banksy’s piece is thus a biting remark about Bob Geldof.
But not the only one. In Africa, Banksy created also another stencil with Peaches Geldof – Bob Geldof’s daughter. Next to her effigy there is a black boy with a charity box for Peaches. African kids probably had no idea what it meant but in Europe Peaches Geldof was known to all teenagers. At the age of 15 she wrote for Elle Girl magazine, then she was a model and a TV presenter. She was known for her vanity, promiscuity and partying a lot, which ultimately led to her demise – she died of heroin overdose.