Turf War Banksy
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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 warehouse on East London’s Kingsland Road – where the original painting was suspended from the ceiling and surrounded by the artist’s famous Flying Coppers spray-painted on cardboard.
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, Churchill is best remembered for his wartime triumphs rather than his messy dealings with colonialism.
Why is Turf War important?
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.’
Banksy's former printer, Pictures on Walls, has described the work as "The original thug immortalised here is the moment the turf was placed on the statue of the big man during London’s May Day riots. Arguably the best piece of vandalism this country has seen for over a decade".
Why we love Turf War… ‘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 which turns him into a wannabe punk rocker. Disconcertingly, 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” - Joe Syer.
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