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Also known as Cant beat that Feeling, Banksy’s Napalm print, is a disturbing and direct play on Nick Ut’s famous photograph The Terrors of War.
Upon publication, the original photograph shook global audiences to the core with its shocking portrayal of Vietnamese children fleeing from a napalm blast that had just hit their home in Trang Bang village. The focal point of the photograph is a nine-year-old girl named Phan Thi Kim Phuc, running naked in fear down a road alongside other children and soldiers of the Vietnam Army. Despite suffering severe burns to her back, she survived the attack and now lives in Canada. She has since been the focus of a book entitled The Girl in the Picture by author Denise Chong, published in 1996. The year after its release, the photograph won both the Pulitzer Prize for Spot News Photography and the World Press Photo of the Year.
In Banksy’s reimagining of the famous image, Phan Thi Kim Phuc is similarly positioned in the centre of the composition, but is flanked on either side by the popular characters Mickey Mouse and Ronald McDonald, figures who represent two of the world’s most litigious corporations.
This establishes a disarming juxtaposition in one of Banksy's most cutting and provocative social criticisms. The horror of the scene is twisted and intensified by the pair of beaming characters, seemingly unconcerned by her distress, forcing the viewer to question their benevolence. Are they saving her life or guiding her to her fate?
Being prevalent symbols of American commercialism, this Banksy print uses the characters as an attack on American consumer culture and to reflect upon the dangers of capitalism, its impact on the population, especially children, and to denounce its lack of humanism. Napalm is laced with socio-political issues of power, violence and national identity, both for America and for the world.
Image © National Gallery of Art, Washington / The Terror of War © Nick Ut 1972
Banksy’s Napalm, also called Can’t Beat That Feeling, is a take on Vietnamese-American photographer Nick Ut’s Pulitzer prize-winning photograph The Terror Of War, from 8 June 1972. The original image shows children and soldiers fleeing after the South Vietnamese air force accidentally dropped napalm (a gel mixture that burns up to 1200°C) on the village. Central to the image is a crying girl, running with her hands stretched out, having been burnt in the napalm attack.
Napalm © Banksy 2004
For Napalm, Banksy removed the other children and soldiers in it’s original photograph and instead features Ronald McDonald and Mickey Mouse, the mascots of McDonald’s and Disney, holding the girl’s outstretched hands with inappropriate, trademark grins on their faces. The two characters’ joyous smiles stand in stark contrast to the distraught expression of agony on the little girl's face – as the artwork’s other name is Can’t Beat That Feeling, Banksy throws into question which ‘feeling’ the title refers to.
Kids On Guns © Banksy 2004
The girl pictured in both it’s The Terror Of War and Banksy’s Napalm is Phan Thi Kim Phuc, who was 9 years old at the time of the napalm attack. She suffered severe burns covering 30% of her body, but it helped to get her transferred to an American hospital where she received life-saving treatment.
Kim Phuc now lives in Canada and is a UNESCO ambassador. Her biography The Girl In The Picture was published in 1999.
Napalm © Banksy 2004