Banksy + Metapictures

After class this morning, I left wanting to look at more Banksy graffiti art. Whether you believe graffiti is vandalism or not, the artistry and commentary behind Banksy’s work is both relevant and inspiring.

Metapictures, as defined by Mitchell in Picture Theory, are “pictures that refer to themselves or to other pictures; pictures that are used to show what a picture is” (Mitchell 35). In class, we discussed how Banksy creates artwork that seamlessly utilizes the exterior world as part of the display. These meta-“graffitis” are incredible to analyze. After class, I found this Banksy image online:

This Banksy creation was done on the side of a house near the UK Government Communications Headquarters. Three men dressed in trench coats “wait” patiently next to a telephone booth with recorders, microphones, and camera equipment. To me, the artwork seems to suggest a lack of privacy. Potentially, even deeper, commenting on encroaching government surveillance… especially due to it’s location. Not only does this piece kind of make me laugh (as it’s pretty comical to envision yourself going into the telephone booth), it also makes me think critically about government surveillance. Are we being watched at every turn?

By simply incorporating the outside world (aka the telephone booth) into the piece, Banksy successfully creates a metapicture worth talking about.

3 Replies to “Banksy + Metapictures”

  1. I too looked at some more photos of Bansky’s art and it is amazing how much they made me think. He doesn’t try too hard to force his opinion on the viewer. He simply creates his art pieces and leaves them up to each viewer’s personal interpretation. I can personally relate to this image because in my country, the government does listen in and “deal” with anyone who talks negatively about the president. Bansky would get in trouble if he painted this outside a government building at home. So his graffiti also speaks to the freedom of expression Banksy has in his country.

  2. Darby,

    You choice of Bansky street art and your interesting analysis exemplify the aim of a “metapicture.” You point out that this example contained some humor for you because you couldn’t imagine walking into a telephone booth. I believe that your reaction to this detail reveals additional possible interpretations to this work. If the telephone booth is an antiquated object, then the several men with recorders could represent an outdated version of surveillance. The contemporary way the government listens into our private cell phone calls would be harder to illustrate visually because of our ignorance to it. We don’t know what modern surveillance looks like; it’s an invisible yet omnipresent threat. We’ve heard about it, but we can’t see it. This fact makes it all the more powerful that Bansky was able to find a visual way to communicate the same message even if he didn’t show the modern manifestation of it. The frequency of telephone booths throughout London also intensifies the idea of omnipresent government surveillance. Another interpretation could be that the government is investigating a cultural artifact. Could the government be surveilling more than just our phone calls but our history too? Could they be controlling what we know about it?

  3. I think your analysis of this piece of Banksy’s is spot on. All of his pieces are of great interest to me, not only because of their aesthetically pleasing nature, but because of the way in which they force us to think more critically about issues within our society. His pieces serve as a starting point for discussion. The open dialogue that his pieces bring about can lead to the transference of understanding for and appreciation of the issues that permeate in peoples day to day lives, and in my mind that is what art should do. It should challenge us to look beyond the thing that’s right in front of us in search for a deeper meaning.

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