In his latest public stunt, the elusive Banksy took to the streets of Margate, Kent, in the early hours of 14th February 2023. In typical Banksy style, this latest mural is not your regular Valentine's Day cliché of love hearts and roses. On the contrary, Banksy presents a macabre scene that alludes to domestic violence. A 1950s housewife, with a black eye and missing tooth, appears to slam the door of a physical fridge-freezer shut as she winks out to the viewer in triumph.
Banksy fans welcomed back the anonymous street artist, whose last public interventions were seen in Borodyanka, Ukraine, in November 2022. Indeed, Banksy's lack of identity has often enabled his politically-motivated murals, and Valentine's Day Mascara is certainly no exception.
Since his rise to fame in the early 2000s, the renegade artist has used his public works to campaign for justice. Whether that be on a small or enormous scale, Banksy creates works which reflect the socio-political issues of our time with biting satire. In spite of his quippy nature, Banksy's stencil works often reveal the bleak corruption of innocence at the hands of capitalism, war, and authority. Here are some of his greatest expressions of innocence vs violence:
In his ironic subversion of the ‘Valentine's Day Massacre’, Banksy named his latest public work Valentine's Day Mascara. Complete with a lace apron and yellow rubber gloves, Banksy's 1950s housewife appears to be the victim of domestic violence. Her smokey eye is certainly not the result of mascara, but she smiles and winks to the viewer as she shuts her husband in a fridge-freezer.
Banksy corrupts the stereotypically ‘innocent’ vision of the 1950s housewife here. The mural is a reminder that domestic abuse prevails in the UK, even on Valentine's Day - a bleak fact that should never be overlooked.
In many works from the early 2000s, Banksy dressed military vehicles in cartoonish motifs and represented them like infantile illustrations. Created in the wake of 9/11 and the Iraq War, these ironically sexy representations of weaponry are certainly not as idyllic as they first seem.
From Happy Choppers to Armoured Car to Every Time I Make Love To You I Think Of Someone Else, Banksy points a finger at the proponents of war and mocks the powerful profiting from the misery of others.
Likely Banksy's most defiant anti-war image, Love Is In The Air (Flower Thrower) was poignantly debuted as a mural on the West Bank Wall. The 2002 mural was a response to the construction of the Wall separating Isreal from Palestine, and is a powerful appeal for peace amidst this enduring conflict.
Clad in all black and a balaclava, Banksy's protagonist in Love Is In The Air is dressed like the typical political insurgent. He stands ready for action, with his arms stretched as though about to throw a weapon towards his enemy. In the place of a hand grenade or tear-gas bomb, however, is a bunch of flowers. This innocent intervention transforms the image from one loaded with violence, to one which appeals to our basic human nature and desire for peace.
The innocent child is one of Banksy's most widely repeated motifs, and demands the viewer's immediate attention. Children are the most impressionable and vulnerable in society, defenceless in the face of violence and injustice. From his illegal public works to his printed editions, Banksy has used children to emphasise the corrupting nature of authority and violence.
His iconic Girl With Balloon, for example, champions the naivety of childhood. Though the heart-shaped balloon appears just out her reach, this composition is loaded with innocent hopefulness. In other works, like Bomb Love and Jack & Jill (Police Kids), Banksy's uses children to show the debasement of that naive innocence.
Though war is one of the central issues explored in Banksy's oeuvre, capitalism is usually highlighted as the source of violence and cruelty. As haunting works like Napalm and Very Little Helps would suggest, capitalism is often the catalyst of socio-political injustice - even when it may look innocent at first glance. Protected by his anonymity, Banksy has never shied away from making this painfully clear in his public artworks and stunts.
Through his mingling of innocence and violence, Banksy holds an unflattering mirror up to his viewers. There is nowhere to hide when it comes to viewing a Banksy, and the elusive street artist shows no sign of easing the blow of these hard truths.