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In Heavy Weaponry, Banksy displays his habitual enjoyment of wordplay, depicting an elephant with a rocket strapped to its back, carrying out some form of military drudgery. Though ambiguous, the image is characteristically anti-war: symbolising the military-industrial complex, which has negative consequences for both people and nature.

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Meaning & Analysis

Heavy Weaponry is a well-known canvas by British street artist Banksy made using black spray paint and stencils. Heavy Weaponry depicts a singular elephant made in Banksy's recognisable stencil style with a rocket strapped to its back, hence the double-entendre in the witty title. The entire composition consists of a minimally depicted animal simply strolling forward, heavy with irony. The artist's signature is visible in the bottom right-hand corner rendered in light grey stencilled capital letters.

The image of the elephant bearing a rocket on its back carries various interpretations; presumably, the general message is anti-military, in line with Banksy’s other works using similar imagery. Using the elephant as a symbol resonates with other famous Banksy works featuring various animals that represent ordinary people or the ‘masses’ vis-a-vis the establishment and the military-industrialist complex, such as Laugh Now which depicts a sombre monkey.

The Heavy Weaponry image was reproduced in various editions and formats. In 2002, Banksy created a unique version on cardboard showing the elephant over a red spiral – the same used in Banksy's Radar Rat – with the addition of the artist's signature tag over a red barcode stencil. In 2004 the artist reissued it as a canvas – with the slight difference of the elephant facing the other direction and the signature tag which is no longer visible but appears on the overlap – by the now defunct Pictures on Walls, a ‘loose collective of artists, graffiti writers and illustrators’.

Banksy also donated a copy of Heavy Weaponry on wood reading ‘Fragile’ and ‘Protect from All Elements’ to the film star and philanthropist Leonardo DiCaprio in order to raise money for his foundation. Works by 33 well-known painters were auctioned in 2013 at Christie's in New York and raised over $38 million for the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation.

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