Turf War Banksy
Banksy’s Turf War reproduces a famous portrait of former British Prime Minister Winston Churchill with a slight difference; instead of a bald head, Churchill is painted with a green mohican. The screen print was first seen in 2003 at Banksy’s ‘Turf War’ solo exhibition – which took place in a secret location in East London – where the original painting was suspended from the ceiling and surrounded by the artist’s famous Flying Coppers spray-painted on cardboard. The Turf War screenprints were released shortly after the exhibition by Pictures on Walls as an edition of just 150 Turf War signed prints and 600 unsigned prints.
The original portrait of Churchill, known as ‘The Roaring Lion’, was taken by Armenian-Canadian photographer Yousuf Karsh in the chamber of the Speaker of the House of Commons in the Canadian Parliament in Ottawa on December 30, 1941, after Churchill delivered a speech on World War II. Considered to be one of the 20th century’s most significant political figures, Winston Churchill is best remembered for his wartime triumphs rather than his messy dealings with colonialism.
In Turf War, Banksy reimagines Winston Churchill as a punk rocker with a bright green strip of hair resembling a mohawk but also a piece of turf. Painted in Banksy’s typical black and white stencil style on a white background, the portrait is monochromatic, like Karsh’s original photograph, apart from the green strip of hair. Churchill shows the same determined smile and ferocious look as in Karsh’s photograph, which earned him the nicknames ‘the British bulldog’ and ‘the roaring lion’ and which perfectly reflect his famous words ‘We shall never surrender’.
Banksy’s use of Karsh’s portrait of Churchill is a reference to the Prime Minister’s leadership during WWII and his persistence through adversity however this is no tribute; here Banksy appears to be denouncing the constant battles for borders and territory that have come to define 20th and 21st century politics at great cost to civilian lives. As he has written in his 2005 book, Wall and Piece, ‘The greatest crimes in the world are not committed by people breaking the rules but by people following the rules. It’s people who follow orders that drop bombs and massacre villages.’