The dog featured in Choose Your Weapon is a motif that appeared in the work of Keith Haring, a pioneer of graffiti art in New York in the 1980s. Haring was known for his social commentary and activism, and is an important influence on Banksy’s work. Including Haring’s Barking Dog emphasises Banksy’s call for peace and the value of art in achieving this.
Choose Your Weapon addresses the trend of disaffected youth owning aggressive dogs as weapons – an issue that was receiving a lot of media attention at the time this work was made. Here, Banksy compiles a complex and contradictory message, putting a spin on the idea of dogs as man’s best friend, by making him man’s enemy.
But, even though Haring’s Barking Dog has been weaponised, its cartoon nature and its connotations to social justice make it seem harmless. Banksy aims to turn the prejudice and violence of gang culture back into the progressive nature of art, reminding us of the security of man’s best friend.
Choose Your Weapon was first released as editioned prints in December 2010 by Banksy’s then printer, Pictures on Walls. On the morning of the release, thugs and aggressively keen Banksy fans caused fights and disorder, pushing fans who had been queuing in the cold out of the way.
The event was notorious and meant that many people missed out on their chance to buy a coveted Banksy print. To console those who unfairly left empty-handed, Banksy released an additional, limited-edition 58 prints with a grey background. These prints were called the Queue Jumping Grey edition.
The central figure of Choose Your Weapon is a young man with his hood raised and a mask covering his face to protect his identity. This anonymous figure also appears in Banksy’s iconic Love Is In The Air (Flower Thrower), who has appeared repeatedly throughout his career. The masked figure is widely believed to represent the disaffected youth, marginalised by society, and who, in Banksy’s work, fight back using peaceful means (in the case of these two artworks, barking cartoon dogs and flower grenades).
Shortly after its first appearance, the mural was boarded over. Banksy returned and repainted the image soon after and protected it with the addition of a perspex cover, a treatment undergone by many of Banksy's murals.Since then, posters and flyers have entirely obscured Choose Your Weapon from view, leaving people unsure whether the mural is still underneath.
As excitement over Banksy’s imminent new release for Choose Your Weapon built up, rumours began to spread. One rumour caused many collectors to queue outside Marks & Spencer in Soho from 10pm the night before the scheduled release. In response, Pictures on Walls decided to release three of the colour variations there the next morning: lemon, olive, and magenta.
Banksy’s Choose Your Weapon is available in 19 colourways, a much larger number of variations compared to other Banksy prints. With edition sizes varying between 20 and 100, colours include: bright pink, dark blue, bright purple, dark orange, gold, green, khaki, lemon, light orange, magenta, olive, red, silver, sky blue, slate, soft yellow, turquoise, white, and grey (Queue Jump Edition).
With his rising reputation as a formidable and collectable street artist, Banksy has almost completely stopped releasing prints to the public since 2010. This was in part due to the unmanageable clamour for his works on release days, but also due to the number of fraudulent prints in existence.
Choose Your Weapon is the last new Banksy print series to be publicly released, although the artist more recently created a reworked Sale Ends in 2017 and his merchandise shop Gross Domestic Product in 2019.
When Choose Your Weapon is considered from Banksy’s perspective, its meaning gains an additional layer. Not only is the central figure choosing a harmless weapon, but Banksy is too: art. Throughout his career, Banksy has tackled pressing and sensitive subjects. His cans of spray paint and his stencils have been weapons against social injustice and often a gift to those in need.