Banksy's Original Concept For Barely Legal Poster

Year: 2000
Medium: Mixed Media
Dimensions: 138 x 213cm
Last Hammer: £2,200,000 (Sotheby's London, 2021)
Signed/Unsigned: Unsigned
This work by Banksy takes inspiration from Demi Moore's iconic pregnant nude cover shot. A nude pregnant female is shown covering her breasts and craddling her bump, while wearing Banksy's monkey mask.Original Concept For Barely Legal Poster © Banksy 2006
Joe Syer

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In 2006, Banksy, the enigmatic street artist known for his trenchant social commentary, created the Original Concept For Barely Legal Poster, a piece created to promote his very first exhibition in the United States, and one that subverts traditional representations of motherhood and femininity with characteristic irreverence. This mixed media artwork, sprawling across a 138 by 213 cm canvas, employs Banksy’s iconic stencil technique to reinterpret a seminal moment in 90s pop culture — Demi Moore’s Vanity Fair cover from August 1991, photographed by Annie Lebovitz.

Original Concept For Barely Legal Poster Meaning & Analysis

Demi Moore's cover has significantly influenced society, inspiring numerous celebrities to take maternity photos in their later stages of pregnancy, emulating the style of Moore's pose, a shift that has turned pregnancy photography into a popular and lucrative trend. Widely considered one of the most iconic magazine covers ever, this image stands as one of Leibovitz's most celebrated works. It has also been the subject of numerous parodies, as seen here in Banksy’s work. This reinterpretation is a perfect choice when considering that the Barely Legal exhibition was held at an industrial warehouse in Los Angeles, a city defined by the idolisation of celebrity and fame. The exhibition’s name is a tongue-in-cheek allusion to legality and morality, especially within the concept of street art, and echoes in the piece’s composition as the figure smokes while with child. This juxtaposition is classic Banksy — a visual oxymoron that is provocative yet disarming.

Against a stark white backdrop, Banksy’s pregnant woman holds her breast and belly, her identity obscured by a monkey mask while she smokes a cigarette. The figure’s wide-eyed gaze, directed straight at the viewer, creates a disconcerting confrontation. The monkey mask has become synonymous with the artist’s own quest for anonymity, and the animal recurs often in his oeuvre as a narrative that suggests themes of evolution, primal instinct and, perhaps, a critique of humanity’s own performances in societal roles. While the choice to obscure the face suggests a commentary on the ways in which society consumes images of female celebrities — often depersonalising them into icons or objects of curiosity, it also associates the work directly with the artist as his signature motif.

Banksy’s composition simultaneously evokes the original photograph's pose and further imparts it with an absurdist quality that invites viewers to question the juxtaposition of maternity with a sense of surrealism. His portrayal of the female form in this work is particularly striking because it contrasts sharply with the Western art historical canon, which has often either idealised the pregnant body or shied away from it altogether. The Original Concept For Barely Legal Poster does not shy away. It confronts and compels, placing the natural and the real in stark contrast with the expectations of gloss and glamour typically associated with pregnancy in the public eye. This artwork further reflects Banksy's adeptness at layering meaning through his chosen mediums; the use of stencil and spray paint, traditionally associated with street art’s immediacy and transience, contrasts with the enduring and deeply personal nature of maternity.

“The Original Concept For Barely Legal Poster is a quintessential Banksy piece, using shock and paradox to critique societal norms.”

Joe Syer
Joe Syer,Co-Founder & Specialist,MYArtbroker

Barely Legal: Banksy’s First Exposure in the United States

In Barely Legal, the exhibition for which this piece was first created, Banksy transformed an industrial warehouse into a carnivalesque space of art and live animals, with this artwork as a focal point. Held over the weekend of 16 September 2006, this was his third major exhibition and marked a significant moment in the artist's career, offering free access to all visitors. The show featured a 37-year-old Indian elephant, painted to blend into its surroundings, serving as a stark visual metaphor for the societal tendency to overlook significant issues like poverty and access to clean water. This particular piece was a literal take on the phrase "elephant in the room," and ignited a debate on the ethics of using animals in art, drawing criticism from animal rights groups. The exhibition was a rich showcase of Banksy's stencil art and installations that offered a critical look at themes such as war, consumerism, and the cult of celebrity, marrying humour with deep societal observations. The Original Concept For Barely Legal Poster encapsulates this aesthetic.

In addition to the warehouse exhibition, Banksy's activities in Los Angeles extended to a daring stunt at Disneyland in Anaheim. Here, he placed a figure dressed as a Guantanamo Bay detention camp prisoner behind one of the rides. This installation aimed to spotlight the human rights issues at the detention camp, notably after the suicide of three inmates there. The figure, which remained undetected for about 90 minutes, and a video showcasing Banksy placing the figure in the theme park, were also part of the exhibition. This bold stunt further exemplified Banksy's commitment to bringing political and social issues to the forefront through his art, solidifying Barely Legal as a significant socio-political statement that echoed beyond the confines of the exhibition space.

Original Concept For Barely Legal Poster: Exhibition History

Barely Legal, Los Angeles, 2006

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