Détournement a la Banksy

For many of us, we have grown up in a landscape dominated by symbols that represented entire aspects of our lives. Golden arches. Mouse ears. Camels that totally weren’t trying to make us smoke because that would be illegal. The greatest sort of advertisements come from the messages we manage to make ourselves: that we associate the McDonald’s iconography with the joy from a happy meal or laughter with family and friends on rare nights out to eat. To be able to base all previous relationships and experiences with a company in the simplest image makes the viewer all that more likely a consistent customer.

It also makes some of the imagery artists like Banksy use all the more powerful.

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If one could say that the end goal of détournement is the reversal of the images of capitalism, to turn these symbols against themselves, then it finds no closer bedfellow than the activity of graffiti. Graffiti can itself be seen as the reversal of the billboard advertisement, where it becomes unavoidable and oppressive to expose the oppressive nature of the capitalist landscape. Yet unlike other artist’s focuses on repetition and repetition and repeating their own symbols to create a kind of anti-discursive semiotics and repetition Banksy draws from the already established minutia of Americana life and puts it at its natural extremes. Of course this is not their only target of choice, where instead Bansky may instead draw from the sayings and places that are normalized and commonplace and suddenly making them far less normal.

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The power of détournement is that it represents subversion at its most blatant. Not everyone needs to agree that it would also mean subversion at its most powerful.

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1 Comment

  1. Interesting piece! I definitely agree with your illumination of the role of graffiti in counter-capitalism discourse, and I think Banksy is our modern figure head of this artistic practice. However, through his rise to fame, Banksy persona still leaves me with some questions. How does his overall anonymity, and our quest to uncover his true identity affect the way in which we are able to understand his art? Do the networks that surround his career support his message, or do they only subscribe to the mystery that surrounds him? As we discussed in class, not everyone is going to understand piece of detournement in the way they are meant, and in that sense, how much of Banksy’s success is actually helpful? At the same time I think it would be interesting to consider this in relation to his recently opened hotel. Is his hotel a continuation of his counter capitalist work, or is it merely a publicity ploy?

    Liked by 1 person

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