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Mixed Media, 2019
Signed Mixed Media
Banksy's Early Learning Counting Set, sold via Gross Domestic Product, features a truck filled with figures representing asylum seekers affected by the refugee crisis. Despite its childish simplicity, it represents vividly the tragic clash of innocence and circumstance for asylum seekers and smugglers’ inhumanity. Banksy supported migrant rescue missions through sale proceeds.
Both tragic and witty this Early Learning Counting Set from the first incarnation of Banksy’s online shop, Gross Domestic Product, is typical of the notorious street artist’s oeuvre. The work makes reference to the ongoing refugee crisis, in which thousands of people have died trying to cross the Mediterranean and the English Channel in a bid to escape the oppressive regimes or ongoing conflicts of their mother countries. For many the journey remains one of the most dangerous they could possibly undertake, and it is this very moment of peril that Banksy has decided to depict in this piece which shows a couple loading their belongings and baby into the back of a lorry of the kind that passes frequently through Europe’s industrial ports. Meanwhile a crowd including a doctor, a young chemist and a firefighter look on, their uniforms clearly showing them to be professionals while the migrant family are dressed anonymously, reflecting the public’s attitudes towards them.
This saddening scene is rendered in the simple wooden blocks of a child’s counting game, and was originally accompanied by a description that read: ‘Engage all your child’s learning muscles with this fun counting game. See how many figures they can fit in the truck while it makes a quick stop.’ Perhaps in order to assuage the criticism this piece was expected to receive, Banksy originally intended all profits from its sale to go to charities that help rescue refugees, however some will surely still see it as a work of insensitive satire on the artist’s part.
This kind of satire is of course in keeping with the rest of Banksy’s oeuvre in which small children salute a Tesco’s carrier bag instead of the Union Jack in his work Very Little Helps, and slogans such as ‘If at first you don’t succeed call an airstrike’ sit side by side with ‘I can’t believe you morons actually buy this shit’ in reference to his own work Morons. At heart Banksy is a provocateur, enraging and enchanting his public and his critics with evermore inflammatory remarks and artworks that are always, however uncomfortable they may be to view, bang on the money when it comes to current affairs.
While skeptical of the neoliberal governments and extreme consumerism that characterise contemporary society, Banksy shows himself to be a many faced artist, both rejecting and embracing the world of capitalism by criticising secondary sales of his work, at the same time attempting to control the market for his products with his own shop and authentication service, ensuring his intellectual property remains his own.
With the launch of GDP, which attracted thousands of people to Croydon where the products were first displayed in a showroom, he decided to eschew the traditional retail model and invited customers to ‘apply’ to buy products in a bid to make them more accessible to low income collectors. In this way, however, the products have become even more exclusive, their small quantity and carefully controlled distribution only adding to their already significant value.
'Engage all your child’s learning muscles with this fun counting game. See how many figures they can fit in the truck while it makes a quick stop. Wipe clean finish, contains small parts unsuitable for under 12's. Proceeds from the sale of this item are used to support migrant rescue missions in the Mediterranean. Italian courts have ruled this illegal so customers are advised the purchase of this item could constitute a criminal offence.' - Gross Domestic Product.
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