Banksy’s Syria Video

I’ve always been a fan of Banksy’s work. One of the images on the right side of this blog is an image of a Banksy work. But I’m honestly just baffled by this latest video that’s supposed to be a comment on Syria. It seems devoid of any kind of substance. Either that, or all of us are missing something.

But what is clear is the imagery Banksy uses is offensive, no matter the intent. The imagery is, on the one hand, Orientalist: the buffoon-ish Arabs, savagely celebrating killing a poor animal, while one jumps atop of it and the other is kicked in the shin by a child, amidst screams of “Allahu Akbar.” On the other hand, the context of the video given the imagery is offensive as well. The audio was pulled from this video, a video of a rebel attack on a Syrian warplane in Mennegh air base, near Aleppo. In the Banksy video, you can clearly discern the words “Governorate of Aleppo” being uttered at around the 15 second mark. Mennegh air base was a base that the Syrian regime used to launch airstrikes on Aleppo, causing immense destruction and ravaging the city. So what exactly is the message? That the Syrian regime warplanes are analogous to poor flying elephants? That the rebels in Syria are a bunch of ragtag buffoons going around trying to kill even the poorest creatures?

Perhaps this wasn’t his intent. Perhaps the video is an exercise in “art for art’s sake.” But that is hard to believe given Banksy’s penchant for social commentary in his works. He’s obviously trying to say something, and unfortunately, if there’s a deeper message that we are all missing, if it does happen to be about the DUMBO neighborhood in Brooklyn or whatever, it is overshadowed by the very superficial picture painted on the surface.

Banksy’s previous works that focused on the Middle East weren’t as baffling. On the apartheid wall in Palestine, he drew pictures of “paradises” beyond the wall, and one of a little girl patting down an Israeli soldier. These were celebrated as witty, daring works. He even paired these works with anecdotes, such as this conversation he had with a Palestinian man while painting the wall:

Old man: You paint the wall, you make it look beautiful.
Banksy: Thanks
Old man: We don’t want it to be beautiful, we hate this wall, go home.

That’s why this latest video is so confusing to me. The video just seems to be a desperate attempt to weigh in on something for the sake of weighing in on it, and by doing so, led to this analysis that at best is ambiguous, and at worst, victimizes the Syrian regime by analogizing it to a poor cartoon animal.

  1. Khairallah said:

    I thought Dumbo meant childhood, which is why the child got upset. The war is killing childhood would be the message, I suppose.
    Portraying rebel fighters was probably the easiest way to show he meant Syria, at the price of making it seem that he’s accusing the rebels and not the war itself of savagery.

  2. jhomer42 said:

    I know relatively little about the conflict itself, but I think that the choice of Dumbo is interesting. What does Dumbo represent but an ineffectuality, a harmlessness? And why would anyone want to target him? It was either intentional or by mistake, and judging by the response (withholding judgment, for a minute, that what we’re looking at is obviously constructed), it seemed intentional. Perhaps there is a lingering message about what Banksy (or Banskyny, now) thinks about what it means for there to be success in such situation; that the success conditions are themselves empty and perhaps entirely deceiving (or deceived). The government itself, according to this video, seems like a mockery, constantly making mistakes that undermines its own work (which was, again, how dumbo acted), while the opposition (or oppositions) seems unable to know how it might even advance its own aims, let alone recognize what that might look like. Again, I’m not commenting on what is actually happening but on what I see in the video. I definitely sympathize with your claims of racist depictions, but I feel like this isn’t the primary target of the film. But the fact that they were proudly declaring victory so loudly over such a meager accomplishment seems to further a reading about such an Orientalist depiction. What I’m still mulling my head over, though, is the kick that the boy gives his father. I wonder if it is supposed to signify a kind of disillusionment with politics and with the fight or an infatuation with western consumeristically-inflected idols on the part of a new generation. The two explanations are not mutually exclusive, but I feel like they might be in play to some degree. In any event, again, I feel like I should caution against a misinterpretation of my comment here, which only really derives value from being an interpretation and reading of the video and not one of the actual events themselves (or some relationship thereof).

  3. Robin Yassin-Kassab said:

    and the rebels are wearing afghan gear. Thanks for writing this, Nader. Banksy adds himself to the staggeringly long list of so-called leftists who can’t see how rotten they are with racism and orientalism.

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