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Mixed Media, 2019
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The Banksy™ Rug portrays Tony the Tiger as a hunting trophy, exposing him as a capitalist puppet that promotes high sugar consumption. It highlights the dark side of advertising that targets children. The piece was part of Banksy's Gross Domestic Product project to subvert retail models and make his art accessible.
'A bit of old carpet painted to resemble the diabetes riddled corpse of Tony the tiger, this floor covering makes quite the conversation piece – especially if the conversation centres around the UK spending over £7.8million a year on tooth extractions for the under 5’s. Carpet with resin head. Suitable for vegetarians. Signed.' - Gross Domestic Product.
Playing with the colonial motif of the hunting trophy turned into cosy furnishings for your country pile, this Banksy™ Rug takes the well known character of Tony the Tiger – originally created to sell Frosties, a popular breakfast cereal – and reveals him as the puppet of capitalism that encourages children to consume high levels of sugar to the detriment of their dental health.
In this Banksy piece, Tony has been skinned and splayed out across the floor. His orange and black fur is rendered into a fluffy carpet with his head cast in resin and his mouth is opened wide to reveal, not a fearsome set of gnashers, but a paltry selection of teeth, rotted away by the sugar in his product. The original description to accompany the piece stated that this was ‘the diabetes riddled corpse’ of Tony, suggesting it would make ‘quite the conversation piece – especially if the conversation centres around the UK spending over £7.8million a year on tooth extractions for the under 5’s.’ Here Banksy’s message is explicit, though as usual it is cloaked in the dark humour we have come to associate with his artworks. While offering an entertaining distraction from daily life, at the same time he uses satire to shine a light on the darker aspects of capitalism, including the kind of advertising that preys on the suggestibility of young children to sell them things that they don’t need or that are bad for them.
This anti-capitalist message can be seen throughout Banksy’s oeuvre, in his earlier works of street art and in prints such as Festival (Destroy Capitalism), Sale Ends Today, and Christ with Shopping Bag. In fact the whole Gross Domestic Product venture, where this piece originally appeared, could be said to embody Banksy’s often confusing relationship with capitalism. On the one hand works such as these seem to represent his status as an outsider in the art world, fighting to keep his work on the streets in order for it to remain free and accessible to the general public, while at the same time he releases limited edition prints and artworks through an online shop immediately raising his profile and value on the market. GDP was not designed as a traditional shop however.
From its launch as a showroom that never opened in Croydon, South London, to its quasi lottery system that meant buyers could not secure his artworks on a first come, first served basis, GDP was an attempt to circumvent traditional models of retail and to keep his works out of the hands of the kinds of collectors who would buy them for investment alone.
Here we have the embodiment of the dichotomy of art and commercialisation that has come to characterise Banksy’s latest ventures including Dismaland and GDP. While at once the tiger seems to poke fun at the empire and its free markets, a second look at this clever double entendre forces us to think harder about the artist's intention.
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