Banksy wanted Clacton-on-Sea to confront racism

– instead it confronted him

Tendring district council has destroyed a painting that eloquently challenged views on immigration – was it too close to home?

‘If this Banksy picture scared anyone it must be because the pigeons’ views are just too close to real opinions in the air – the satire is so accurate that it can be mistaken for reality.’ Photograph: Universal News And Sport (Europe)

It must say something about the swirling currents of prejudice, fear and anger in modern Britain that even Banksy cannot predict their next bizarre lurch.

From Bristol to New York, this street artist has made his reputation by wittily mocking power and money. In Manhattan he satirised McDonald’s (not, perhaps his most original target) and in Cheltenham, near GCHQ, he painted spies snooping on a phone box. Usually people love him for it. The political content of Banksy’s art is generally so accepted and enjoyed that it has become tame. Far from being challenged, people gush at the prices it fetches.

It comes as a genuine shock, then, that a council has removed one of his paintings instead of calling in the valuers. Tendring district council says it destroyed the new painting that materialised in Clacton-on-Sea – where Tory defector Douglas Carswell is about to fight a byelection for his new party Ukip – after getting a complaint that it was “offensive and racist”. Was it?

Not in a million years. This is the best Banksy I have never seen: a clever and succinct satire on some currents of feeling in contemporary Britain, terrified of “migrants”, menaced by otherness. Far from being by any stretch of the imagination “racist”, it is – was – a witty putdown of the drab, dour vision of Britain touted by those who would push down diversity and hold back the tide of modern human movement.

A grumpy gang of grey pigeons aim their outrage at a beautiful green migratory swallow. “Migrants not welcome”, say their placards: “Go back to Africa”; “Keep off our worms.”

Did a member of the public really see these banners and take offence? If so, they misunderstood what is quite plainly an eloquent attack on racism.

The contrast between the ugly pigeons and the pretty swallow could hardly be starker or more telling. Plainly, we’re meant to be on the side of the swallow. Banksy has cleverly exploited two contrasting wall textures to put the pigeons and the swallow in contrasting worlds: the place where the pigeons are is not very attractive and yet they defend it brutally, to the last worm.

Clearly, the African swallow is not a threat but an enriching presence. It’s the “locals” who are grim. And the joke goes deeper. Banksy is pointing out that migration is not just a good thing – it is a natural fact. Migratory birds have been part of our landscape for a very long time. The little Britain defended by those who fear outsiders is an illusion – even the birds in our trees are citizens of the world.

This satire is in the tradition of Aesop’s fables or St. Francis of Assisi when he preached to the birds – it’s a lovely little vignette. For birds do not, of course, wave racist placards. Only humans do.

Source: TheGuardian Read more

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