The graffiti artist Banksy has made the headlines once again, after his most recent piece of art sparked controversy in Clacton-on-Sea.
Banksy, whose true identity is known to but a few, created the piece on a wall in the Essex council, depicting five pigeons holding banners saying: “Go back to Africa”; “Keep off our worms”; and “Migrants not welcome” to a lone swallow, on what appears to be a telephone line.
The image caused some complaints, and the council has since destroyed the artwork, describing it as “offensive and racist”.
It is testimony to the work of Banksy that his art is so prevalent in political discourse. Noted as being controversial in many cases, his work is nonetheless thought-provoking and very accurate at depicting the political scene in this situation.
Clacton-on-Sea will play host to one of the most closely watched by-elections for many years, with the UK Independence Party set to pick up their first seat in Westminster. The by-election was triggered after the previous MP, Douglas Carswell, defected from the Conservatives to UKIP, with whom he is now running for as the council’s MP.
What is telling about the reaction to this latest Banksy piece is that it is clearly too close to the truth about what is happening in the UK – and across Europe for that matter – than people are comfortable with. It is clear that the issue of immigration is on the table, and that the UK is becoming ever more inclined towards tightened immigration levels. This we saw in the last European Parliamentary Elections, with many Eurosceptic, right-wing, anti-immigration parties growing, including UKIP.
The five grey pigeons are a clear representation of both society in the UK, and the politicians who are making headlines. You might as well draw ties around their necks in order to represent more clearly the grey, suited, middle-class who are complaining that those coming in from abroad are stealing their jobs.
Another clever piece in the art is Banksy’s choice of birds. The pigeon: most commonly associated with the city, and very much a native bird that has been in Britain for as long as anyone can remember. However, since when did anyone have one good thing to say about a pigeon? Apologies to any pigeons out there, but often they are described as “rats with wings”, and perhaps Banksy is making a nod to this in his work. Furthermore, they are greedy. “Keep off our worms”, they say. “We will not share our rewards with you”.
Next we have the African Swallow. Swallows migrate every year to Britain in the summer time, in order to enjoy whatever sunshine our country has to give them while Africa goes through its winter months. There is always much rejoicing at the arrival of the Swallows, as it often heralds that summer is finally here.
What this analysis shows is that immigration can help to enrich our nation. The Swallows are a change from the usual grey pigeons that hang around our city streets, bringing a diversity and richness to our culture, society and economy. After all, a number of things that the UK has now adopted into its culture have come from the countries we once owned as the British Empire.
The plumage of the Swallow is something that particularly displays these messages. A bright green colour, brightening up the society we live in, but also, perhaps, something to cherish.
But as I said earlier, Swallows migrate to the UK every year, and Banksy appears to be conveying that immigration has always been part of the United Kingdom, and is inevitably going to happen. The Swallow migrates expecting the same place to be there as was there last year, but as we have seen, the face of British politics is becoming ever more fierce.
Was this Banksy piece used to cause harm? Of course not. For me, I expect the “offence” caused by the artwork is more of a feeling of guilt instilled in some who would describe it as such. Without knowing the ins and outs of the work in itself, to just glance at it someone would get the message.
Or perhaps not. Maybe that is why it was reported. Perhaps someone glanced as it, saw the words “Go back to Africa”, and instantly phoned the council, without giving any real thought to what the work actually meant.
All things considered, Banksy has hit this nail on the head; it’s just a shame we cannot face it.