CND Soldiers Banksy
Probably Banksy’s most notorious anti-war work, CND Soldiers is a limited edition silkscreen print released by Pictures on Walls of London, Banksy’s original UK print house, in 2005 in an edition of 350 signed, and 350 unsigned prints.
The image first appeared outside the Houses of Parliament during an anti-war protest led by Brian Haw, an English peace campaigner who lived for a decade on the Westminster peace camp. At the time the UK’s involvement in the 2003 Iraq war had been brought to light, and the fact that millions of people, including soldiers, protested against the invasion was reportedly ignored.
Banksy’s original work was later removed by the authorities, but CND Soldiers was recreated for State Britain, in an installation at the Tate Britian in 2007 by British artist Mark Wallinger which fully reenacted Brian Haw’s protest display. The same year Wallinger won the prestigious Turner Prize, and the judges praised the work, which incorporated Banksy’s imagery, for its, ‘immediacy, visceral intensity and historic importance’, they called it ‘a bold political statement with art’s ability to articulate fundamental human truths’.
The work itself depicts two soldiers painted in the artist’s black and white stencil trademark style on a monochromatic background. Whilst one soldier holds a machine gun seemingly on lookout watching his accomplices back, the other is painting a large peace symbol in red paint – the only coloured element in the image. The satirical juxtaposition of soldiers and their guns alongside the iconic peace sign is intended make the viewer to question the concept of ‘keeping the peace’. It’s Banksy at his best, taking a swipe at the view of war as a valuable means of upholding peace and democracy.
Questioning the validity of the government’s control deemed necessary to ‘keep the peace’ is a central theme in Banksy’s work. The red peace sign originally symbolised the British Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) of 1957 and is now widely known as an international symbol of peace. Banksy’s inclusion of it here, painted dripping with red paint, overtly evokes the bloodshed of war. Further contrasts are drawn, the soldiers a symbol of control who act on behalf of the government, are represented as vandals, graffitiing the wall in protest. Both characters are represented as activists in the campaign for peace.
CND Soldiers is yet another artwork by Banksy which questions the grounds of authority, freedom and speech and highlights the media’s trivialization of warfare. Among other works that do the same are Applause, Bomb Hugger, Happy Choppers and Have a Nice Day.