Banksy's Art as Cultural Diplomacy

In 2016, Banksy created a number of works critical of the handling of the Refugee Crisis in Calais, France

January 04th, 2018
William Urbanski, Mariana Goulart, Zoe Kompa, Sophia Amora Sowelu, CD News

One of Banksy's pieces which appeared in refugee camp in Calais, France. An examination of Banksy's activities in Calais art show how art as Cultural Diplomacy can influence society.

Note: This article summarizes a presentation by students at the Institute for Cultural Diplomacy on Tuesday, December 12, 2017.

By drawing widespread attention to social issues, Banksy shows how individuals can use art as Cultural Diplomacy. While Cultural Diplomacy is generally practiced by the public and private sectors, Banksy is a clear example of how members of civil society can also use cultural products to promote an exchange of ideas.

Culminating in 2016, the city of Calais, France experienced a huge influx of refugees, particularly from Syria. The refugees had come to Calais largely in an attempt to enter illegally into the UK. The migrant camp where upwards of 7000 refugees stayed was nicknamed "the Calais Jungle" due to its crowded conditions which lacked proper sanitary or washings facilities. When French authorities made efforts to carry out evictions in the camp, their tactics drew the ire of popular street artist Banksy.

Banksy is an anonymous artist whose works have gained international fame and recognition for their scathing social critiques as well as for their distinctive style and brazen deliveries. Banksy is considered a pioneer of "street art" and is widely recognized as someone who brought urban and outsider art to the mainstream. One of his works in Calais shows Apple’s founder, Steve Jobs, as a refugee from Syria arriving at the camp; this piece is a strong statement regarding Steve Jobs’ actual background as the son of a Syrian migrant, and how much he contributed to the American economy with his creations. Another piece sprayed on the side of the French embassy in London included a QR code which linked to a video of French authorities using tear gas to disperse refugees in Calais even though they had denied doing just that.

The fact that Banksy's art is not seen in museums or art galleries, but rather on the street, shows that Banksy’s target audience is not the elite, but rather young people whose ideals include changing society. The fact that Banksy also encourages the diffusion of his pieces through social media (despite not having his own Twitter, Instagram or Facebook accounts) is indicative of his awareness of the power of peer-to-peer communication.

Banksy has considerable talent, skill and expertise in not only creating his art installations but is also a master of using his art to communicate important messages to vast number of people. Whether intentionally or not, Banksy uses Cultural Diplomacy to create understanding and encourage the exchange of ideas.


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