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Part of Banksy’s Placard Rat series, Because I’m Worthless demonstrates the artist’s interest in juxtaposing animals with themes of capitalism. It is one of three screen prints featuring rats holding up placards with different messages, originally released in 2004. The other two are titled Get Out While You Can and Welcome To Hell. All were released in similar edition sizes. The whole series contains 75 signed screen prints and 175 unsigned prints each with red and pink colour ways.
The inspiration behind the Placard Rat series comes from the book Get Out While You Can – Escape the Rat Race by George Marshall, a book explaining how to find a way out of ‘salary slavery’. Banksy has reproduced variations of each of the Placard Rat prints as graffiti art in the streets of London.
Because I’m Worthless shows a rat painted in Banksy’s iconic black and white stencilled style. The rat is standing up on two feet, like a human, and is holding up a placard reading ‘Because I’m Worthless’ in bright red or pink writing. The only splash of colour in the composition is a pun of the L’Oreal tagline ‘Because I’m Worth it’.
The rat, wearing a necklace bearing a peace sign, is seemingly engaged in a form of social protest. The rat is metaphorical – a symbol of the everyman caught up in the rat race that Marshall describes in his book, who is considered to be worthless in the eyes of those he works for. Presented like a protester, the rat stands for the victims within the context of the workplace, suffering from injustice and oppression.
Banksy’s appreciation for rats is often attributed to French stencil artist Blek le Rat, also known as Xavier Prou, who is considered to be the father of stencil graffiti and is famous for introducing urban art to France in the '80s. Blek le Rat’s spray painted stencils of rats first appeared in Paris on the banks of the Seine, about 20 years before Banksy appeared on the scene.
See our guide to Banksy's rats here.
“I’d been painting rats for three years before someone said ‘that’s clever, it’s an anagram of art’ and I had to pretend I’d known that all along,” Banksy wrote in his book, Wall and Piece.
For Banksy, each rat brings his political and social commentary to life – they present street artists, rebels, the downtrodden masses and anyone who feels rejected by society. On another page from Wall and Piece, the artist wrote:
“Rats exist without permission. They are hated, hunted and persecuted. They live in quiet desperation amongst the filth. And yet they are capable of bringing entire civilisations to their knees. If you are dirty, insignificant and unloved then rats are the ultimate role model.”
Love Rat © Banksy 2004
Love Rat originally appeared as a mural on the streets of Liverpool. It was released as a print in 2004, in 150 signed and 600 unsigned editions. At first, it appears that Love Rat was intended to spread love, but the bleeding heart may be a reminder that love can cause pain and suffering, as well as joy. Banksy even promoted this idea, suggesting a Love Rat print is “ideal for a cheating spouse”.
Gangsta Rat (AP Green) © Banksy 2004
Gangsta Rat, wearing a New York Mets baseball cap, a chain necklace and a boom box, is a homage to the urban art and music scene that was fashionable in the UK in the 1980s and 1990s. The tag behind it, ‘iPOW’, references Apple’s i-products, but POW stands for Banksy’s older printers, Pictures on Walls. The artwork originally appeared as a mural in London in 2004. Later that same year, Banksy released Gangsta Rat with a red ‘iPOW’ as 150 signed and 350 unsigned prints. In 2015, he re-released the print in six additional colourways, including pink, mint green, green, orange, blue and grey for special Dismaland VIP collectors.
Radar Rat © Banksy 2004