'This mat is hand stitched using the fabric from life vests abandoned on the beaches of the Mediterranean. Customers are advised they no longer constitute a valid buoyancy aid - although shockingly many never did - they're cheap fakes sold by people smugglers and don't actually float.' Gross Domestic Product.
Along with the Banksy™ Early Learning Counting Set, this work presents a cutting take on the ongoing refugee crisis that has seen thousands of people risk their lives in the illegal crossing of the Mediterranean and the English Channel.
Ostensibly a welcome mat of the type seen outside many of Britain’s homes, the work reveals itself to be layered with poignant meaning, its bright and cheery message stitched together from the fabric of discarded life vests that promise to keep the migrant afloat in case of capsizing in rough seas. In the original description for the piece in the online Gross Domestic Product, customers were advised that the limited edition pieces ‘no longer constitute a valid buoyancy aid – although shockingly many never did – they're cheap fakes sold by people smugglers and don't actually float.’
While many other products in the shop seemed to capitalise on the things they were satirising this work offered a more sensitive approach. It was originally made in conjunction with the organisation 'Love Welcomes', who work with women held in detention camps in Greece. The GDP website also listed that all proceeds from the original sales were ‘retained locally to help refugees access key services.’
Combining compassion with wit, this work proves Banksy’s unfailing ability to both make light of tragedy and to highlight the unfairness of a world which forces families to flee their homes as a result of war and oppression. In this way the present work ties in with many of Banksy’s other pieces from the GDP shop, including Duck and Cover, which portrays unmanned drones, as well as earlier works of street art such as a mural painted in Venice which depicts a young child wearing a life vest and holding a flare.
The GDP project began as a showroom filled with Banksy products which was unveiled in October 2019 in Croydon, South London. Appearing almost overnight, the ‘shop’ became a viral sensation with visitors queuing round the block to get a look at Banksy’s new ‘homewares brand’.
The shop never opened however and customers were told to go online to purchase these products which ranged from the welcome mat seen here to a limited edition version of the stab vest worn by Stormzy at Glastonbury that same year. But once online customers could not buy products straight away; instead they were asked to answer the question ‘Why does art matter?’ which would then enter them into consideration for a piece. This was intended to avoid buyers acquiring pieces purely for investment, in a move that mirrored the original motivation behind the concept of the shop which was to prevent a greeting card company from trademarking the Banksy name. With GDP Banksy got there first, releasing a line of products that go beyond the cheap merchandise that usually imitates his designs in order to convey important messages about our society and to create innovative artworks at the same time.
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