The Art of Subversion

Night crawls in and Banksy and his urban warriors sweep through town…or maybe a distant village. They appear in Los Angeles, in Disneyland, in the Museum of Modern Art, in a display of ancient Chinese Art and on the ugly apartheid wall erected by Israel.

In all his works, Banksy, the nearly nameless, faceless subversive artist pops up surreptitiously with his works in the midst of well-known works. Almost innocuous, for a while at least. Sometimes he takes Warhol’s commercial pop and changes the well-known famous Campbell soup works into the Tesco logo. He puts up “illicit” paintings guerilla-style, like Monet’s Lily Pond, but with a shopping trolley reflected in the pond. He transforms Rodin’s Thinker into a Drinker and places a traffic cone on the head. Inside the hallowed halls of famous Museums, his nearly authentic but smartly decoyed works suddenly appear and sometimes they survive for several hours, until a bored security guard or museum official wakes up in utter turmoil. He is referred to as the Art Terrorist . In Los Angeles, now, there is an exhibit on, that has a live elephant, painted over in a wall-paper design and housed in a building which has the same wall-paper on the walls.

Combining graffiti, stencil art and cartoon drawings, Banksy once reportedly said “Art should have your pulse racing, your palms clammy with nerves and the excitement of creating something truly original in a dangerous environment.”

They say he has a real name. It is Robert Banks and he is from Bristol. His life remain sketchy and obviously nothing that the establishment would feel proud about. But he maintains the tradition. The tradition of Art as subversion, witnessed during the Vietnam War and later on in New York’s walls in the ‘80s.


A Banksy painting on Israel’s security barrier


He handles Aids in Africa with a large mural-like painting “Sweeping it Under the Rug” on a London wall. Several weekends ago, he smuggled an inflated doll, dressed as Guantanamo Bay prisoner and hung it up in Disneyland, California.

And last year he did his classic best. He stenciled fake holes on the Palestine side of the wall, with children digging holes and looking out into the other side.

Unlike Basquiat and Satchi, he does not care to sell his works. He operates as a true subversive. He undermines the mainstream

For the Fall issue of Serai, the theme is Art as subversion. Cinema, Theatre and Art as subversion is conceived as a project to highlight new artists (and their works) who engage in agit-prop in the world of cinema, artworks (including performance) to express not only their angst but also launch a subtle fusillade against hypocrisy and injustice. Now we are not talking about Andy Warhol or even pop-alternativism/abstractionism, but works that actually contribute towards raising debates and social consciousness on specific issues. In this issue, we have presented lead articles on cinema as subversive art, essays on the notion of subversive theatre, presentation of art works that continue to question and subvert mainstream “home truths.”

Needless to say, the internet has become a potent weapon to subvert the subversion of the right. Progressives have no access to the TV-media. There are some limited channels for radio news distribution. They are dwindling fast. Mainstream theatre has been usurped. Imagine Kevin Kline and Meryl Streep co-opting Brecht’s Mother Courage in Central Park, NY. They are even doing it for “free.” Brecht himself was co-opted ages ago. So, the only way subversives can assert themselves, create new blood is through guerrilla mechanisms and in our millions and growing blogs, our websites, our home-video sites. Let’s do that more and more and knock down the puerile theatre of Christiane Amanpour and Anderson Cooper.