Picturing a downcast chimpanzee wearing a sandwich board, these Banksy prints bear the anarchic title and slogan, "Laugh Now, but one day we'll be in charge." Despite his expression, Banksy's monkey is a defiant representative of society’s 'underdogs', who offers us the hopeful message that the oppressive reality of society will someday come to justice.
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A central motif in the artist's œuvre, the dejected, stencilled monkey of Laugh Now (2003) has become synonymous with Banksy. First commissioned by the now-defunct Ocean Rooms nightclub on Morley Street in Brighton, Laugh Now originally appeared as a six-metre-long, spray-painted mural behind the venue's bar. In this mural, the figure of the monkey was repeated 10 times in a row.
In 2003, Banksy issued 150 signed and 600 unsigned edition prints of Laugh Now, along with 69 artist's proofs. In 2008, Ocean Rooms sold the original Laugh Now at Bonhams auction house, where it realised a sale price of nearly half a million US dollars. Today, Laugh Now is internationally-recognised as an unmistakable Banksy work. It is also one of one of the artist's most popular prints.
Rendered in Banksy’s signature monochrome style, the forlorn monkey of Laugh Now wears only a sandwich board, bearing the words “Laugh now, but one day we’ll be in charge”. The heavy board, along with the monkey’s slumped shoulders and sunken eyes, suggest that he is oppressed or enslaved.
Along with the rat, the monkey is one of Banksy’s most frequently used animal characters. Banksy uses animals as didactic figures in his critical social commentary, which often satirises humankind. The catchphrase written on the sandwich board - 'Laugh now, but one day we'll be in charge' - is typical of the artist's use of text to convey powerful messages to his audiences. [To learn more, see our guides to Banksy's Monkeys and Rats.]
Laugh Now could be seen as a satire of contemporary politics, or as a criticism of humanity's treatment of animals - particularly our primate cousins. Suggesting that the monkey is preparing for an uprising, Banksy's cutting text is both mocking and threatening: it warns the artist's audience of iminent revolution.
Laugh Now © Banksy 2003
One of Banksy’s early works, the original Laugh Now was commissioned by the Ocean Rooms nightclub in Brighton in 2002. The six-metre long stencilled mural, featuring ten monkeys in a line, was designed to form the backdrop of the bar.
Later, versions of Laugh Now appeared in Banksy’s exhibition Existencilism in Los Angeles, his first solo show, and as well as on murals in the streets, on paintings and as limited-edition screen prints.
Laugh Now © Banksy 2002
Banksy's Laugh Now was released as a print in 2003 in an edition of 150 signed, and 600 unsigned prints, along with 69 artist’s proofs. The screen print depicts a monochrome chimpanzee against a brown background. While the majority of the image is in clean, stencilled lines, the primate’s feet turn into dripping paint running down the image, similar to wet ink on a spray-painted mural.
Monkey Poison © Banksy 2004
“Laugh now, but one day we’ll be in charge” states the heavy sign strapped to the chimpanzee, suggesting the monkey is feeling oppressed but not defeated. Banksy’s message is a clear prediction that the unwanted and downtrodden will soon rise up against their tormentors – the artwork has also been read as a criticism of the way that humans have treated primates, including abusing them for entertainment or animal testing, which is a theme the artist touches upon in multiple works like Monkey Poison or Barcode.
Read more about Banksy's complicated relationship with the animal rights movement here.
Laugh Now © Banksy 2003