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The latest Banksy artwork from his NYC residency (image via banksy.co.uk)

A new red balloon has emerged on the streets of Brooklyn (Red Hook, King Street and Van Brunt, according to Gothamist and Animal), but over the weekend, the street artist of mystery also tried two different tactics to get his work out to the world during his monthlong New York residency.

Banksy’s truck piece (via banksy.co.uk)

On Saturday, a truck installed with an idyllic scene was parked in the East Village. The mobile utopia (complete with waterfall and rainbow) seems to solve the issue of vandalism that his other work has been facing (I’m going to assume it will be harder to deface, but I might be wrong), and in general plays up the spectacle aspect of street art more than most of his other works.

The following day, Banksy released a video using altered Syrian Civil War footage: instead of an aircraft, the Syrian rebels shoot down Disney cartoon elephant Dumbo. Is this possibly a reference to the Brooklyn neighborhood of the same name? The video ends with a bit of slapstick as a little “rebel” kicks a man carrying a bazooka in the shin.

Banksy’s video may bring some attention to the situation in Syria, but most people will probably not realize that the reference is to Syria rather than some generic “Al-Qaeda-like scene,” as someone I know mentioned to me in his take on the video. While the piece is labeled “Rebel Rocket Attack,” the message is more complicated, and one commenter has already suggested that the Syrian rebels are “clearly the villains of the piece.”

There has been a fierce “YouTube battle” for hearts and minds that has been running parallel to the Syrian Civil War. The chanting of “Allahu akbar” (God is great) by the fighters in the video is particularly noticeable, and one can’t help but think of a media incident last month when US Senator John McCain criticized the hosts of Fox and Friends for fixating on the “Allahu Akbar” being chanted in many of the rebel videos.

Banksy’s intention for the video may not be obvious, but it’s certainly clear that there’s an air of “innocence lost” in this work. A young boy approaches Dumbo after the elephant falls to the ground, and he seems to take out his anger at a man who walks towards the cartoon elephant to take a better look.

The news channel insignia on the footage is clearly Al Jazeera’s Arabic-language logo, and it makes me wonder if details like that are partly an effort to point out the strange web of realities in Syria today (including Al Jazeera’s obvious pro–Syrian rebel bias) rather than picking one side or the other, as Banksy did during the West Bank project that was obviously against the erection of that wall.

What will be the impact of Banksy wading into the Syrian Civil War? As the Foreign Policy blog notes:

The video, which has been up for one day, has already been viewed 1.4 million times. By comparison, one of the most-watched videos of the actual chemical weapons attack in Damascus on Aug. 21 has been watched roughly 375,000 times.

Banksy’s video also points out that war has engulfed the digital realm as much as the real one. As an Arab-American consultant told the Wall Street Journal:

“How the videos are shared, the social media commentary around them, is as important as the content. People in the region are fully engaged in that dimension. There are two conflicts, the war and the digital war, which globalizes it.”

While today’s heart stencil in Red Hook and Saturday’s truck diorama in the East Village may not be particularly riveting artworks, pieces like the Syrian video and its viral life online point out why Banksy continues to drive conversation about issues well beyond the confines of the art world.

Note: Writing on The Slog, Jen Graves brings up a great point, she writes that she’s not sure how I know it is “altered Syrian War footage rather than the generic footage Vartanian says people will be more likely to think it is when they watch it without being told.” I’m not certain that the footage Banksy uses is found footage rather than restaged. My hunch is that it is found footage from the Syrian conflict that is altered but I have not been able to find the original footage yet.

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Hrag Vartanian

Hrag Vartanian is editor-in-chief and co-founder of Hyperallergic. You can follow him at @hragv.

2 replies on “Banksy’s Busy Weekend NYC Projects: Diorama, Heart, Syrian War”

  1. ‘Banksy continues to drive conversation about issues well beyond the confines of the art world.’ I’m curious to know what the author defines as the confines of the art world?

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