Why Banksy Is (Probably) a Woman (Citylab)

 

by Kriston Capps  Nov 4, 2014 original article here.

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Andrew Winning/Reuters

 

Banksy Does New York, a new documentary airing on HBO on Nov. 17, opens on a bunch of scofflaws trying to jack an inflatable word balloon reading “Banksy!” from the side of a low-rise building in Queens. These hooligans weren’t Banksy. Neither were the police officers who took possession of the piece after the failed heist and denied that it was art. Nor in all likelihood was the silver-haired man who sold $420 worth of Banksy prints for $60 a pop in Central Park, or the drivers who slowly trawled New York streets in trucks tricked out with Banksy’s sculpture, or the accordionist accompanying one of Banksy’s installations. While the film shares a lot of insights about street art, media sensationalism, viral phenomena, and the people who make Banksy possible, it doesn’t cast a light on who Banksy is or what she looks like.

“Banksy hunters” who tracked the elusive artist over the course of her month-long residency last October never caught a glimpse of her—at least, so far as anyone can be sure. Reporters such as Beth Stebner (New York Daily News) and Keegan Hamilton (then with The Village Voice) didn’t find her. That her identity is still secret is an achievement, given her notoriety and marketability.

But what Banksy Does New York makes plain is that the artist known as Banksy is someone with a background in the art world. That someone is working with a committee of people to execute works that range in scale from simple stencil graffiti to elaborate theatrical conceits. The documentary shows that Banksy has a different understanding of the street than the artists, street-writers, and art dealers who steal Banksy’s shine by “spot-jocking” or straight-up pilfering her work—swagger-jackers who are invariably men in Banksy Does New York.

All of which serves as evidence against the flimsy theory that Banksy is a man.

A scene from Banksy Does New York depicts vandals attempting to make off with the last piece from Banksy’s 31-day residency in New York. (HBO)

 

This hypothesis is not completely unfounded. Eleven years ago, The Guardian‘s Simon Hattenstone met Banksy in a pub in Bristol. The reporter had his own concerns about identifying Banksy, even early into the artist’s career. (“Nobody here seems to know what he looks like. But they all know him. That is, they know of him. That is, if he is a he.”) Hesitations notwithstanding, Hattenstone was convinced: He wrote that the person he interviewed “looks like a cross between Jimmy Nail and Mike Skinner of the Streets.” Your standard bloke.

In the 2010 film Exit Through the Gift Shop, another documentary about street art, Banksy appears as an anonymous figure whose voice is disguised, but who is plainly a man. So that would seem to put the question to rest. Further to the point, the street artist Shepard Fairey referred to Banksy as “he” and “him” throughout an interview with Brian Lehrer the same year. Fairey would be in a position to know, presumably: He’s the closest thing Banksy has to a colleague. Fairey says that Banksy insists on anonymity, in part, to manage his image in the press. “He controls the way his message is put out very carefully,” Fairey says in the interview.

Yet these pieces of evidence confuse rather than clarify the issue. Exit Through the Gift Shop is a classic piece of misdirection. Over the course of the movie, the film’s would-be documentarian, Thierry Guetta, is exposed as a poor filmmaker. Partway through, Banksy takes over the production, turning it into a documentary about the documentarian instead. To complete the meta romp, Guetta, working under the nomme de rue Mr. Brainwash, proceeds to rips off Banksy’s style. All of this means that Fairey, Banksy’s co-conspirator in Banksy’s film, is an unreliable narrator.

Another piece from Banksy’s New York residency. (HBO)

 

During the very first interview that Banksy gave to The Guardian, another figure was present (“Steve,” Banksy’s agent). Another figure is always present, says Canadian media artist Chris Healey, who has maintained since 2010 that Banksy is a team of seven artists led by a woman—potentially the same woman with long blonde hair who appears in scenes depicting Banksy’s alleged studio in Exit Through the Gift Shop. Although Healey won’t identify the direct source for his highly specific claim, it’s at least as believable as the suggestion that Banksy is and always has been a single man.

“Since there is so much misdirection and jamming of societal norms with Banksy’s work, as well as the oft-repeated claim no one notices Banksy, then it makes sense,” Healey tells me. “No one can find Banksy because they are looking for, or rather assuming, a man is Banksy.”

A Banksy outside the Hustler Club in Hells Kitchen. (Eric Thayer/Reuters)

 

Part of what makes Banksy’s work so popular is that it doesn’t operate much like street art at all. Think about Invader or Fairey, artists who appear in Exit Through the Gift Shop: Invader’s 8-bit career began with a single “Space Invaders” icon that the artist reiterated endlessly. Fairey’s work started with a stencil of Andre the Giant prefaced by the word “Obey,” again, repeated over and over. While they’re both more like media moguls than graffiti writers today, Fairey and Invader started with the same strategy: to project themselves into public spaces by broadcasting themselves all over it.

That ambition to control a public space through this sort of redundant branding, to make the street your own, is a masculine one—and it’s shared by the overwhelming majority of street artists. In the theater of the public square, graffiti is cousin to cat-calling—which Slate’s Dee Locket smartly explains as the constant effort by men to “create the illusion of dominance in shared public spaces,” specifically by claiming women’s private spaces as their own. Naturally, street art is at best delightful and at worst a nuisance, whereas cat-calling is an intolerable social problem and a legitimate threat to women’s safety. So any comparison between the two only goes so far.

Still from a video graphic mapping Banksy’s October 2013 New York residency. (HBO)

 

Banksy does Brooklyn. (Carlo Allegri/Reuters)

 

Compared to the highly visible work of Invader or Fairey or dozens of other high-profile street artists, Banksy’s work is different. Girls and women figure into Banksy’s stenciled figures, for starters, something that isn’t true of 99 percent of street art. Banksy’s work has always done more than project “Banksy” ad nauseum. (In fact, a “handling service” called Pest Control exists to authenticate Banksy’s protean projects.) Banksy’s graffiti understands and predicates a relationship between the viewer and the street, something that graffiti that merely shouts the artist’s name or icon over and over (and over and over) doesn’t do.

Maybe it gives Banksy too much credit to say that her work shows a greater capacity for imagining being in someone else’s shoes. (It’s true of her themes of social justice, but it’s also formally true in the way her work anticipates interaction with the viewer.) Andrew Russeth, at the time the editor for Gallerist, the New York Observer‘s art site, finds Banksy’s work lacking in the Banksy Does New York documentary, calling it “art that hits you over the head with its message” and “worst-common-denominator art”—although he had kinder things to say about Sirens of the Lambs, a truck filled with squeaking plush animals. The fine-art world may not love Banksy, but Banksy plainly thinks of herself as part of that world: The New York residency drew on countless tropes from the art world, complete with a wry audio tour guide.

Banksy’s Everything but the Kitchen Sphinx in Queens was dismantled and removed by the owner of an auto-glass shop. (Shannon Stapleton/Reuters)

 

“The real show he is running is on the Internet,” says one savvy observer in the documentary. “It’s like the Internet is almost his graffiti wall.” Close: Her graffiti wall. The savvy manipulation of media to make viral art, to make art about virality, makes Banksy an innovator breaking out of a familiar form. In contemporary art today, that’s a feminine trait: The best selfie artists are women, for example. So are the artists leading the Post-Internet art world.

Given how many men rip off Banksy in Banksy Does New York—watch the film to meet the utterly vampiric art dealer Stephan Keszler, if for no other reason—it’s only fitting to presume that Banksy is a woman. Women experience the street in a different way than men do. Women experience the art world in a different way than men do. Love her or hate her, Banksy is putting herself at the intersection of the street and the art world. Why would anyone expect that position to be occupied by a man?

Works by Banksy titled Kate Moss 2005 appear in a 2009 auction. (Andrew Parsons/Reuters)

 

What most street art looks like. (HBO)

 

 

 

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A Forgotten History of Angkor Wat Revealed in its Vandalism (Hyperallergic)

by Allison Meier on May 29, 2014 original article here.

Elephant graffiti revealed at Angkor Wat (© Antiquity Publications Ltd.)

A history of vandalism in one of the world’s most famous monuments has been analyzed, revealing long-lost art. In a paper published this week in the quarterly review Antiquity, researchers used imaging technology to uncover the hidden paintings of Angkor Wat.

The Cambodian temple, renowned for its incredible carvings, began as a Hindu religious center that was later transformed into a Buddhist site, and fell into neglect in the 15th and 16th centuries. However, it was never completely abandoned, and traces of its use are secreted in the scraps of paint on the walls.

“What these paintings do is attest to the continued vitality of Angkor during this period of history, which is something that’s too often ignored or downplayed. […] Our understanding of this ‘middle period’ of Khmer history is extremely poor, and almost no archaeological work has ever been done on it,” University of Sydney archaeologist Damian Evans told the Phom Penh Post.

A music ensemble revealed in the paint at Angkor Wat (© Antiquity Publications Ltd.)

The research was carried out by rock art specialist Noel Hidalgo Tan of the Department of Archaeology and Natural History at Australian National University, along with Im Sokrithy, Heng Than, and Khieu Chan of Cambodia’s APSARA Authority. According to Lizzie Wade at Science magazine, many archaeologists have long believed that parts of the temple were once covered in paint, and traces of pigment have been frequently noticed on the walls. What makes this new research a breakthrough is its application of decorrelation, a digital enhancement technology. As the researchers state, although “difficult to see with the naked eye, [the paintings] can be enhanced by digital photography and decorrelation stretch analysis, a technique recently used with great success in rock art studies.”

The technology has also been used by NASA‘s Opportunity rover to analyze the terrain of Mars (here’s a discussion of the process from 2005 at the Society for California Archaeology). The revealed paintings, long thought to be only vandalism, include among the disorderly drawings some very deliberate work depicting ships (indicating European contact), animals like elephants, buildings, and even a mural of Buddha harkening to the temple’s spiritual transition. The researchers note: “The paintings found at Angkor Wat seem to belong to a specific phase of the temple’s history in the sixteenth century AD when it was converted from a Vishnavaite Hindu use to Theravada Buddhist.”

This is yet another example of old vandalism and the art of lay people revealing forgotten stories of the world. Other researchers have recently examined the messages scratched at Pompeii showing social relations in the society, tags from gladiator afficianados at the Colosseum discovered last year during its cleaning, and a 3D laser scan at Stonehenge showing axehead graffiti and inscriptions from later Victorian visitors.

Angkor Wat (photograph by Narin BI, via Flickr)

More on the graffiti at Angkor Wat can be found at “The hidden paintings of Angkor Wat” in Durham University’s review, Antiquity.

‘Keith Haring’s Ghost’ Will Not Face Jail Time, Conviction (WJCT News)

A utility box painting by ‘Keith Haring’s Ghost’ in Jacksonville’s San Marco neighborhood in 2013. The art, now known to have been painted by Chip Southworth, has since been removed. Credit Melissa Ross / WJCT

Kevin “Chip” Southworth, who was charged with a misdemeanor count of criminal mischief, entered a no-contest plea and the judge withheld adjudication, meaning no criminal conviction will appear on his record.

Attorney Reid Hart said the judge ordered Southworth to pay the city of Jacksonville $778 to cover damage to city property plus $300 in court costs and to perform 50 hours of community service. Southworth had already exceeded the community service requirements through volunteer work for the Cultural Council of Greater Jacksonville and Players by the Sea Theatre.

Kevin “Chip” Southworth Credit Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office

Southworth was originally charged with a felony, but Hart said the State Attorney’s Office lowered the charged after determining the amount of damage caused to the utility boxes was less than $1,000.

The artist, well-known in his own right locally, began the mystery street art campaign in late 2013.

According to the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office his graffiti appeared on 11 traffic control boxes owned by the City of Jacksonville.

Southworth told WJCT’s Melissa Ross in January that he felt inspired to start painting after the Jacksonville City Council failed to enact an updated Human Rights Ordinance barring discrimination based on sexual orientation.

He adapted Haring’s artwork, he said, because of its meaning. The late Keith Haring’s work often spoke to social justice and individual freedom.

You can follow Karen Feagins on Twitter @karenfeagins.

Chinese teen defaces Egypt temple; sparks outcry (Associated Press)

By Gillian Wong, Associated Press May 28, 2013 11:09 PM

-Chinese teen’s defacement of ancient Egyptian temple sparks public soul-searching

BEIJING (AP) — A Chinese teenager who defaced an ancient temple in Egypt with graffiti has come under fire at home where his vandalism prompted public fretting about how to cultivate a good image overseas as more newly affluent Chinese travel abroad.

The teen scratched “Ding Jinhao visited here” in Chinese on a temple wall in the ancient city Luxor, and the incident came to light when another Chinese tourist posted a photo of it on a popular microblog with the comment: “My saddest moment in Egypt. Ashamed and unable to show my face.”

The photo quickly caught the attention of the Chinese public, attracting thousands of comments, and someone was able to identify the person responsible for the graffiti as 15-year-old Ding Jinhao from the eastern city of Nanjing. Many criticized Ding’s act as an embarrassment to the country.

“Why there are so many citizens who go abroad and humiliate us? How many generations will it take to change this kind of behavior?” Xuan Kejiong, a prominent journalist with Shanghai Television, wrote on his microblog.

The sentiment was echoed by the mouthpiece of the ruling Communist Party, the People’s Daily newspaper.

“Nowadays, people in China no longer want for food and clothing, and even in the luxury shops abroad, there are advertisement posters in Chinese,” the paper wrote in a commentary. “But many people also feel as though their ‘hands are full but hearts are empty.’ In the process of modernization, how have the people come to lack modern manners and consciousness?”

The outcry prompted Ding’s parents to publicly apologize. In an interview with a Nanjing newspaper, Ding’s father said “the child has committed a mistake and the main responsibility falls on the adults. It was because we did not supervise him well, and have not taught him well.”

The soul searching comes as Chinese tourism overseas has seen an explosion in growth over the past decade, fueled by rising incomes and the relaxation of government restrictions on citizens’ ability to travel abroad.

China has been the fastest-growing source of international tourists in the world for the past 10 years, the World Tourism Organization, a U.N. agency, said in April. The organization said the volume of international trips by Chinese tourists has grown from 10 million in 2000 to 83 million in 2012 — accompanied by a nearly eightfold increase in spending.

Last year, China surpassed Germany to become the largest spender in international tourism, with tourists’ expenditure amounting to a record $102 billion, the organization said.

But Chinese travelers, many of whom join tour groups, are frequently criticized for rude behavior. Deputy Premier Wang Yang earlier this month during the passage of a tourism law urged Chinese travelers to mind their manners.

“They make a racket in public places, carve words at scenic spots, cross the road when the light is red, spit, and do other uncivilized things,” Wang was quoted as saying. “This is detrimental to the image of the country’s people and leaves a bad impression.”

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Associated Press researcher Fu Ting contributed to this report from Shanghai.

Picasso Painting Vandalized in Houston (ABC News)

By | ABC News Blogs – Tue, Jun 19, 2012 8:27 AM EDT

Police are using security and cellphone video to locate a man who vandalized Pablo Picasso’s famous painting, “Woman in a Red Armchair,” at a museum in Houston.

A fellow museum patron’s cellphone camera caught the moment when a man at Houston’s Menil Collection, which hosts nine Picassos, vandalized the 1929 painting. The painting was doused with gold spray paint in the image of a bull and the word “conquista,” according to police, who said the vandal then fled.

“I’m shocked that he just did it, and unabashedly just ran up and did it,” teacher Isaias Torres said .

Museum officials say the crime occurred last week.

The museum staff houses a conservation lab on site and workers are racing to clean the painting. Museum spokesman Vance Muse told the Houston Chronicle that “repair work began immediately” and that the painting “has an excellent prognosis.”

Art collector Matthew Hewitt said, “It’s excellent that it can be repaired for historic reasons, it’s excellent that it can be repaired, for the respect of Houston, for the defamation of any kind of historical art, and the name of Picasso.”

The museum was unable to estimate the painting’s worth, but similar Picassos have sold for tens of millions of dollars. No arrests have been made.