Review: Banksy in Paris exhibition, a true populist paladin

The essence of who the elusive Banksy is, his values and beliefs, have caused a sensation in the world of art and fascinated the viewers of his work. The themes he powerfully traverses – anti-conformism, anti-establishmentism, pacifism – continues to evoke emotion and feelings of animosity towards the world we live in.

This summer, Bansky’s work was exhibited at the Espace Lafayette-Drouot, Paris for the highly anticipated The World of Banksy: An Immersive Experience. It only seems appropriate that an event like this was hosted in Paris, a city driven by apathetic sentiments and public anger over cronyism.

Although not sanctioned by the figure in question, the programmers amassed a large collection of his original works, sculptures and installations. Moreover, the venue was organised into thematic zones, like the “Walled Off Hotel” situated a few steps from the wall of Bethlehem, lit and quivering to the soundtrack of an Apache helicopter gunship.

Throughout the exhibition, I was taken on a harrowing, yet beautiful journey with the street master through a presentation of around 100 of his works, beginning with a selection of private collections. For instance, there was the ever-controversial “Consumer Jesus”, a drawing of Christ nailed to the cross holding on to some shopping bags; a brave twist on religion with a brutal indictment on consumerism.

Moving upstairs to the screech of police sirens, there is the unmissable “Kissing Coppers” illustrating the famous kiss between two British policemen, as well as “Turf War” where Winston Churchill is turned into a punk icon with a neon green Mohawk.

Mural reproductions are magnificently dispersed throughout, all done by a dozen street artists from across the globe, which makes you understand the impact that Bansky has had on the art industry, even if he does denounce it as “the biggest joke going”.

His impact is noticeable across the globe. Visitors are transported around the world, traveling to New York with “The Street is in Play” and then London with “No Ball Game”. Then we are presented with work done inside the capitol. Like Bansky, Paris elicits a myriad of emotions but the city known as La Ville des Lumières (“The City of Lights”) has grown dim of recent, confronted with a rise in tension after the 2015 attacks. In solidarity Bansky painted a ghostly veiled figure on an emergency exit door of the Bataclan theater where one of the tragedies took place. I was happy to see there was a replica for fans to see.

Do not get me wrong; Banksy (and the exhibition for that matter) is not for everyone. Many say he is oversimplistic and one-dimensional, whose work empathises what Johnathan Jones calls a “psuedo-subversion that is reassuring the laziest part of us all”. Some people skipped through the entirety of the exhibition whilst others conspired the whole thing to be a marketing coup for tourists to spend £30 at the gift shop on a portfolio with exactly the same art that was being presented; a polar-opposition of Bansky’s telos?

Despite this, and the fact that his polemics are not new in the slightest, Banksy is a fascinating provocateur who I see as being something of a populist paladin, gifted with the ability to connect with ordinary people distant from the highest ranks of society. Visiting The World of Banksy: An Immersive Experience offered me a very beautiful excursion of the unique, committed and subversive world of a man requisite to public discourse, and will no doubt continue to construct satirically hard-hitting messages for all to brood over.