New York: He Who Gave Graffiti a Voice

Banksy Does New York Documentary

Was it the mystery behind who Banksy (or Ban-Sky as he calls himself) is, or the crazy amount of audience that earned his graffiti (or art work, as media sees it) respect?


What authorities often times call vandalism, is glorified in HBO’s 2014 original documentary film: Banksy Does New York. Ironically, this film about street art swept the two most popular cinematic rating influences by earning itself a 7.2/10 IMDB and a 100% Rotten Tomatoes rating.

The documentary is made after Banksy, an anonymous British graffiti artist, who managed to spray paint the walls of New York for 31 days consistently in October 2013 without getting caught.

Hysterical, revolutionizing, sarcastic, and realist, are just a few words to describe the tone of the artist and his wit. He represents graffiti in a rather positive light and gives many a reason to believe in ‘social uptake’.

But what got to me the most was how his creative idea lay on a thin line where its meaning was to be determined a make or break by its audience, if any at all. In other words, his audience gave his work value, and if he hadn’t played his cards well, he could’ve ended up a ‘nobody’.

There are hundreds of Graffiti artists who flaunt their talents across walls around the world and yet have not gotten the appreciation they deserve. The value of Banksy’s art is not determined just by the intricacy of his work itself, but more so by the effect of it and the stir it has caused in the society. He is not only a street artist, but also a businessman who knew well how to sell his art, metaphorically speaking. The right place and the right time, or in other words, Kairos, played a big role in his establishment of ethos and logos.

As T Cresswell quotes, “ideas about what is right, just, and appropriate are transmitted through space and place. Something may be appropriate here but not there.” He chose New York, one of the most happening metropolitan cities in the world, in 2013, when technology was already well established, and the Instagram platform, which was fairly new and gaining a lot of attention. Inevitably, traffic was his trophy.

What’s even more incredible, is the fact that Chris Moukarbel, the man who made this film come to life, had no clue that that would happen while Banksy was wreaking his havoc around New York City. Banksy not only “baited the public”, but also “the filmmaker, who obviously bit on the bait.” Showcase of tweets, hashtags, and Instagram posts were a constant throughout the documentary- the internet archive pool, without which Banksy wouldn’t have been able to make history.

Robert Stevens, an artist and a ‘Banksy hunter’ said, “The response to it would be a part of the art itself; it’s never been done like that before.” To which Luna Park, a street art photographer added, “It was like a giant scavenger hunt in New York City, and we were all pawns; we all played along beautifully.”

It became the successful integration of the street and social media. What added on to his prestige was the fact that all his graffiti were as temporary as a bulk smoke dispersion—it stayed, until it disappeared though thin air, because someone stole it, tagged it or reported to authorities. Hence people were ought to go out of the way, for what it was worth, just to have glimpses of it.

While Banksy had a good grasp on his audience, it is to be noted that they were of a wide array; from homeless, to working class, and news reporters, banksy’s graffiti was for everyone to ponder in imagination to. His was purposeful art, that echoed the voices of the oppressed.

The balloon, the man with flowers, or the sphinx, were all metaphors for our society and its beliefs. They served as tools to learn about culture. Meanings, as Berkenkotter observes, not only exist within these settings, but can also be constructed, if observed with an ethnographic gaze.

Banksy’s graffiti, hence, is given meaning, because of its free rider existence in streets. If his work was in an art gallery, it would be ‘out of place’ and that it is only so valuable because it is within the generic realms of what graffiti constitutes- the fact that it is street art, after all.

That being said, if user generated footage did not exist, would Banksy even be a persona that history of the world recorded? Scratching my head, I admit that I highly doubt it. Banksy was 100% intentional in choosing the city where graffiti birthed at the 5 Pointz New York. He gave his tribute to his passion and in the process represented street art and street artists in its true form. He fueled the genre knowledge of graffiti and all the profits earned by small businesses and poor people were just a plus to his mission. His ability to attract an audience was his virtue, and he did with it damn well.

They say few of his works are still in New York’s streets and rest at an Art Gallery in Southampton. My hope is to visit NY next month and explore these places for myself. Standby for original pictures of the still existent artwork of Banksy.

Have a great day and keep wandering,


Categories: TravelTags: , , , ,

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