I always have mixed feelings towards graffiti. Simple tags and smiley faces are a blot on the landscape. Yet poignant and thought provoking statements and images, I believe have a place in the context of the environment they inhabit. Defacing urban spaces with provocative images is something that the mysterious Bristol born artist Banksy excels.
In 2005 and 2007 Banksy and his team visited the Palestinian territories under pseudonyms, creating images on buildings and the Israeli West Bank wall running beside Bethlehem. The art clearly conveys his feelings towards the Palestinian people’s struggles. However, many evidently disagree with Banksy’s political statements, as some artwork has either been covered up or torn down.
Having crossed the border complex from Jerusalem into Palestine with ease, we were greeted by Yamen our Palestinian guide from Murad Tours. We jumped in his stretched white Mercedes for a three hour tour highlighting the sights of Bethlehem, as well as a refugee camp, a visit to a local market and of course viewing Banksy’s handiwork.
The wall separating Israel and the Palestinian territories is a shocking reminder of the troubles. Every reachable inch of the grey wall is covered with satirical art, surely the largest comic strip in the world. It was then no surprise that the first Banksy piece we saw would be found here on the wall.
The girl with balloons
The stencilled image ‘The girl with balloons’ shows a young girl escaping over the wall by clasping a bunch of balloons.
One is reminded of the animated movie ‘Up’ though she would surely need just as many balloons to lift up and away over a structure which stands at twice the height of the former Berlin Wall.
After a visit to the Church of the Nativity, the birthplace of Jesus, we continued on for a drive-by shot (perhaps not the best turn of phrase) of the Angel sprinkling hearts (top of page).
The Flower Thrower
A few minutes later we stopped at a garage forecourt, in front of an oil tanker truck being sprayed down with some toxic cleaning agent. With our hands tightly held over our noses we ran along the side of the garage. In front of us stood one of Banksy’s most recognisable pieces; the spray painted rioter throwing a bouquet of flowers. I was struck by the imposing scale of the image covering the whole side of garage, demanding your attention.
The Girl frisking a Soldier
Opposite the splendid Intercontinental hotel stands one of Banksy’s most striking images in the Palestinian territories. The ‘girl frisking the soldier’ highlights the limited freedom the Palestinian people by the switching of roles. Anyone with a road facing view staying at the hotel will be reminded every morning of the struggles when opening their curtains, its message impossible to ignore.
The Armoured Dove
The final image we visited was the dove wearing a bullet proof jacked with a rifle scope targeted across the chest. I think I saw more bullet proof vests in Palestine than Doves, or indeed any birds.
Yamen gave an excellent account of the Palestinian people’s struggles, and this was brought to life by the genius artwork of Banksy. However, we can only hope the Banksy art will one day disappear, together with the wall and the conflict and such stark, haunting imagery is no longer needed here. Unfortunately, this won’t be any time soon.
by Si Salter