Banksy™ Vest

Banksy™ Vest
Mixed media


Mixed Media, 2019
Mixed media

Critical Review

Famously worn by Stormzy as part of his 2019 Glastonbury set, during which he encouraged the crowd to join him in chanting ‘Fuck Boris’, this stab vest emblazoned with the Union Jack has become an icon of our society which appears to be steeped in endless debates about Brexit and plagued by poverty and inner city violence resulting from years of austerity.

The vest was also featured in a photograph of Stormzy acquired by the National Portrait Gallery the same year in which the rapper is depicted holding the vest with his head hung low under the weight of the letters ‘HITH’ in reference to his second album ‘Heavy is the Head’. This editoned version of the vest was originally sold as part of Banksy’s Gross Domestic Product shop with the description, ‘A version of the “John Bull” English gents waistcoat updated for modern times. This customised body armour is capable of stopping bullets up to .45 calibre and is fully stab proof.’

The piece is the latest in a long line of works by Banksy that both mock and hold the establishment to account. A vocal dissident of the state and its police force, Banksy presents himself as a kind of Robin Hood figure standing with and for the underdog. In this way he uses his talent for creating striking images to convey political messages on the streets of cities around the world.

With the launch of GDP the street artist moved towards making his work more accessible, creating a line of products that could be bought through a new online store. The vest is just one of the many products sold that referenced the UK’s history of violence along with pieces depicting or made from drones, riot helmets and handcuffs.

Endorsed by Stormzy and affordable in price, the stab vest was one of the most popular items in the GDP lineup. Made as a small limited edition it is a highly collectable part of Banksy’s oeuvre, encapsulating the artist’s ethos and representing his endless ingenuity.

With this dark portrayal of the Union Jack Banksy seems to turn a mirror on the empire that made its fortune off the back of colonialism at the same time referencing the art historical tradition of the readymade. By appropriating a found object and making it his own, he takes up the mantle of Duchamp and adds a lacerating political message. In this way Banksy proves himself to be one of the most cutting edge contemporary artists of our time, never shying away from the most violent aspects of society and ensuring his message is heard by people of all ages and backgrounds.

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