Laugh Now Banksy
Laugh Now, from Banksy’s early period of work, was first seen in 2002 as a commissioned work done for Ocean Rooms nightclub on Morley Street in Brighton. It was originally a six-metre long spray painting, repeating the Laugh Now stencil ten times in a row, forming the backdrop to the Brighton bar. In 2008, Ocean Rooms sold the painting at Bonham’s for a record auction price at the time of nearly half a million dollars. Back in 2003, the piece was also reproduced as a limited edition print for sale with only 150 signed and 600 Laugh Now unsigned prints. Today, Laugh Now is one of Banksy’s most internationally recognised works.
Laugh Now is rendered in Banksy’s signature monochrome stencil. It portrays a forlorn monkey, wearing a sandwich board bearing the script “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 figures. Designed to embody in caricature the nature of humankind, Banksy uses these animals as didactic figures in his critical social commentary. The catch phrase on the board is also typical of those often used by the artist to convey powerful or poignant messages to his audience.
Laugh Now could be seen as a criticism of the way that humans have been treating animals, in particular our primate cousins, throughout the course of history to this day, whether poaching or capturing them for entertainment or medical testing. The provocative text on the board is both mocking and threatening, clearly suggesting that the character is preparing for an uprising, as if Banksy is warning his viewers of an imminent revolution.
Since it was first seen in 2002, several versions of the stenciled monkey motif have appeared. Notably, it was displayed on the occasion of the artist’s first solo show Existentialism which took place in Los Angeles later that same year, alongside other provocative aphorisms including “Keep it real” or “Lying to a cop is never wrong”.
Following its record-breaking sale in 2008, a milestone auction for Urban Art, the artwork was subsequently exhibited in Amsterdam in 2017 at the Moco Museum, located in a breathtaking traditional mansion called Villa Alsberg, next to the famous Rijksmuseum and Van Gogh Museum. Laugh Now was the centrepiece of the eponymous exhibition, although more than fifty indoor and outdoor works by Banksy were displayed, including the iconic Girl With Balloon and other recognised works such as Barcode, Pulp Fiction, and Kate Moss.