Banksy's Grannies (2006) can be interpreted as either a nod to musical subcultures or an indictment that those groups have ‘sold out’. As the elderly ladies knit jumpers with the unlikely slogans "Punks Not Dead" and "Thug for Life”, Banksy begs the question: are these grannies retired rebels or simply armchair philosophers?
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Banksy’s limited edition screenprint, Grannies was first shown at his 2006 Barely Legal exhibition, and captures the artist’s now-familiar sense of humour. It was displayed alongside 100 unsigned screen print editions printed by Modern Multiples, that sold for $500 apiece.
The work itself portrays a couple of elderly grandmothers knitting in their armchairs, accompanied by cups of tea and a chintz lampshade. On closer inspection, however, the text emblazoned in block capitals across the jumpers they are knitting bears the unlikely slogans “Punks Not Dead” and “Thug For Life”.
This typically subversive reminder that Banksy is at work here has ensured that Grannies is a particularly popular print, made all the more valuable by its relatively low edition size. In 2007, this work was released by UK-based printer Pictures of Walls, as just 150 signed Grannies and 600 unsigned, as well as a hand-finished signed print edition of just 11.
The Grannies in question appear content to be partaking in their humble act of rebellion. Rendered in Banksy’s famous black and white stencil style, the pair are set against a block pink background, a formal juxtaposition that only serves to heighten the humorous contradiction between scene and message.
Open to various interpretations, perhaps this Banksy print is aimed at reminding the viewer not to underestimate the often-innocuous appearance of the older generation, which acts as a guise for their rebellious pasts. It could also be read as the artist encouraging the older generation to pass down their acts of defiance to the future generations, along with the knitted jumpers they gift their grandchildren. On the flip side, it has also been suggested that the picture represents the gentrification of counter-culture into a tame, mainstream movement suitable even for grannies.
Grannies © Banksy 2006
Banksy’s Grannies print is an ode to punk culture and its anti-authoritarian rebelliousness: the two elderly ladies are knitting jumpers that say “Punks Not Dead” and “Thug For Life”, looking back on the movement affectionately. They may be performing their own small act of rebellion by knitting these jumpers or passing down the message to the younger generation.
I Fought The Law © Banksy 2004
The slogans being knitted onto the sweaters by Bansky's Grannies are music references. In 1981, Scottish band The Exploited released an album titled Punks Not Dead, which celebrated the original punk music of the 1970s and rejected new wave and post-punk ideas, just as Banksy’s Grannies cling to their own punk history. Thug 4 Life is an iconic hip-hop track released by rapper Tupac Shakur (2Pac) in 1993.
Festival © Banksy 2006
Banksy’s Grannies has also been interpreted as the artist’s message that punk no longer exists in its true form: it has been assimilated into mainstream culture, embraced by the masses – even harmless old ladies – and turned into decorative but empty slogans.
Banksy makes a similar comment in his print Festival, in which punks, goths and hippies queue up to buy a mass-produced t-shirt bearing the slogan “Destroy capitalism” for US$30.
Barely Legal LA Set © Banksy 2006