Using art as a political weapon has always been a core part of Banksy’s street art practice and activism. As the Russian invasion of Ukraine continues to devastate lives, it was only a matter of time until new Banksy murals would begin to appear in support of the Ukrainian people.
This is not the first time Banksy has travelled to warzones to offer his support during tough times, as back in 2017 he erected the Walled Off Hotel in Bethlehem.
The most significant of Banksy's new murals is sprayed onto the wall of a missile-damaged kindergarten building. It depicts the final moments of a judo match with a young boy throwing an adult with a black belt to the ground. The depiction of the judo match may at first seem out of place, but this is actually a direct affront to the Russian leader by Banksy. Vladmir Putin, who has waged the illegal invasion of Ukraine, was stripped of his taekwondo black belt and honorary judo title by the International Judo Federation and European Judo Federation back in March 2022.
Riffing off the well-known story of David & Goliath, the young boy in the mural is likely meant to represent Ukraine defeating Putin’s Russia with defiant will. A powerful and moving image, Banksy has proved himself yet again as a street artist able to succinctly convey strong messages via potent symbolism and clever references.
Banksy's new video of the murals in Ukranine, published via Instagram, shows a mother and child describing their changed lives. They stand next to the new mural sprayed onto the child's, now destroyed, kindergarten school. It is also accompanied by a popular Ukranian folk song, 'Chervona Ruta', a song about a mythical flower that brings happiness and hope in love.
There are a total of seven confirmed Banksy murals across Ukraine. One of these shows children two playing on a metral tank strap, mimicking a seesaw and another depicts a gymnast doing a handstand on the ruins of a missile-damaged building.
Other murals show a woman in her dressing gown and hair curlers, wearing a gas mask and holding a fire extinguisher; a man taking a bath; and another where Banksy has used an existing graffiti of a penis, turning it into a nuclear warhead loaded onto the back of an armoured truck.
Banksy has a long history of creating anti-war murals and artworks throughout his career from a figure throwing a bouquet of flowers in Love Is In The Air, to the peace sign painted by soldiers in CND Soldiers. One of Banksy’s most pertinent anti-war images is od a young girl clutching a missile to her chest in Bomb Love, creating an alarming juxtaposition between the violence of war and the innocence of childhood.
Children are repeatedly used by Banksy as symbols of hope and innocence, depicted in juxtaposition to the horrors of war and violence - the limited edition print Kids on Guns being another example of Banksy’s abilities to manipulate our expectations and prod our emotional receptors when it comes to our experiences of war.
The theme of children is used again by Banksy in this new Ukrainian mural, highlighting that the horrors of the Russia-Ukraine war is affecting even children. It also underlines the emotional power of the image, pushing another juxtaposition, the image of the young boy overcoming the odds to defeat his adult opponent.
Banksy is a master of combining anachronistic visual elements, gripping the viewer’s attention and undermining commercial associations to drive his message home. And Banksy once again drives this home in the brand new mural located in Ukraine.
Banksy is no stranger to charitable pursuits, with his gift to the NHS during the covid-19 pandemic, Game Changer, raising an astounding £16.8 million for the University of Southampton hospital staff. Banksy has also been extremely active with donating and creating works that draw attention to refugee and conflict crises throughout the last decade - his powerful Girl with Balloon stencil is one that immediately springs to mind, used to raise awareness for the #withsyria campaign in 2014.
These are the first of Banksy's public murals in over a year, though Banksy’s spirit of solidarity with Ukraine was highlighted back in March 2022 by MyArtBroker’s Banksy4Ukraine campaign that raised £81,000 for a children’s hospital in Ukraine. A generous client donated their CND Soldiers limited edition print to be sold via public auction to raise the funds, a particularly apt donation given its over anti-war messaging.
The street artist's powerful symbolic language gains enormous potency during such difficult times. The artist’s murals and street art activism continue to provide hope to people around the world, and this defiant mural is no exception at this devastating time for the people of Ukraine.