Banksy's People Who Enjoy Waving Flags

Year: 2003
Medium: Spray Paint on Found Flag
Dimensions: 133.4 x 95.9cm
Signed/Unsigned: Unsigned
This work by Banksy shows black text with the phrase "people who enjoy waving flags don't deserve to have one" over an English flag.People Who Enjoy Waving Flags © Banksy 2003
Joe Syer

Joe Syer, Co-Founder & Specialist[email protected]

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Banksy's People Who Enjoy Waving Flags Don’t Deserve To Have One is a provocative piece of art that delves into the complexities and contradictions of nationalism and patriotism in the United Kingdom. Produced between 2003 and 2005, these works come in a series that includes three St. George’s Crosses and a Union Jack, each bearing the same challenging slogan spray-painted across the fabric. The work’s title and main slogan is a powerful paradox that critiques the irony of using a symbol that should demonstrate unity is instead used to sow division.

People Who Enjoy Waving Flags: Meaning & Analysis

Banksy suggests that the act of fervently brandishing a flag can sometimes reflect a deeper obsession with nationalism—one that blinds individuals to the true values and shared humanity that these symbols are meant to represent. The brutality of the slogan, juxtaposed with the humour and shock of its presentation, encapsulates the essence of Banksy's style—provoking thought and challenging assumptions through visual and textual irony. This direct, confrontational message serves as a critique of overzealous patriotism and as a broader commentary on societal divisions and the potentially divisive nature of national symbols.

The presence of the St. George’s flag, in particular, evokes a specific historical and cultural context, linking the artwork to a period of rising far-right nationalism in the UK, as epitomised by the National Front in the late 1970s and early 1980s. This choice of symbol is far from arbitrary, as it roots the piece in a specific dialogue about English nationalism and its darker associations with fascist ideologies. In isolating the English flag from the composite elements of the Union Jack, Banksy hints at the potential for disunity and division even within the United Kingdom itself. By incorporating these elements, Banksy’s work taps into a long-standing debate about the role of flags and wider national symbols in fostering unity versus division. The artist's use of a found flag as the medium further underscores the critique, suggesting a commodification and trivialisation of national pride that can lead to exclusionary and hostile attitudes. Ideally, these symbols should remind us of a nation’s collective history, sacrifices and shared values, and ought to promote a sense of unity and common purpose. However, the stark message of the artwork highlights how, in practice, these symbols can be co-opted to serve divisive ends, often to the detriment of a fair, cohesive and actually united society.

People Who Enjoy Waving Flags Don’t Deserve To Have One is emblematic of Banksy's broader critique of societal norms and political systems. It forces the viewer to confront uncomfortable truths about nationalism, patriotism, and their role in shaping our social fabric. This work reflects Banksy's scepticism towards the unquestioning adoration of symbols and the individuals or institutions they represent. By questioning the foundations of authority, Banksy challenges viewers to consider how societal power dynamics are constructed and maintained, and how these constructions can influence individuals' capacity for independent thought and judgement.

“Banksy's choice to utilise a found flag in this work emphasises the commodification of national pride and invites a deeper reflection on how symbols can be manipulated to foster division rather than unity.”

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

Authority and Nationalism in Banksy’s Oeuvre

Banksy's broader body of work frequently explores themes of authority, power, and the performative nature of societal roles. For example, Sprung Horse depicts an army officer riding a rocking horse, using absurdity and juxtaposition to critique the glorification of military authority in British society and the superficiality of martial prowess. Like People Who Enjoy Waving Flags, this piece underscores Banksy's interest in deconstructing traditional images of power, presenting them instead as constructs of superficial performance that can detract from genuine understanding and engagement with the world.

These themes stand out within Banksy's oeuvre for their recurrence, direct commentary on nationalism but also for its broader implications about society's susceptibility to manipulation and the erosion of critical thinking. Through his works, Banksy posits that a society overly focused on symbols and external markers of identity may lose sight of the values that should underpin such symbols: shared purpose and mutual respect. In doing so, the artwork suggests that a blind allegiance to flags and what they represent can lead to a loss of independent discernment, leaving individuals and communities vulnerable to alienation from one another and from the broader global community.

People Who Enjoy Waving Flags Don’t Deserve To Have One transcends its immediate critique of nationalism to offer a profound commentary on the questionable nature of authority, power and its role within society in the modern world. By challenging viewers to reconsider their relationship with national symbols and the authorities that wield them, Banksy continues his engagement with themes of power, performance, and perception, encouraging a more nuanced and critical understanding of the forces that shape our world.

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