Surveillance Saturates London Streets

This piece was unfortunately painted over by British police, but it marks one of Banksy’s most audacious stunts—a three-story high protest against Britain’s surveillance society just feet from a CCTV surveillance camera.

EYES ON THE STREET - Banksy's work protests the ubiquity of surveillance cameras present on streets and in public places in London.

The guerilla artwork appeared one day on a wall above a Post Office yard in central London. It features a boy in a red jacket painting the slogan “One Nation Under CCTV” in stark white capitals. His actions are filmed by a policeman next to a barking dog.

The secret work is made more impressive by its height, which would have required Banksy to erect temporary scaffolding—all of which went unnoticed by Post Office employees and the London police, despite being watched by a CCTV camera.

CCTV Security Pros is a leading supplier of security cameras and surveillance systems.

According to the London Evening Standard, London reportedly invested in more than 10,000 CCTV cameras in the late 1980’s in a publicly-funded 200 million euro crime-fighting push. The cameras are erected all over the city, but their effectiveness in stopping crime is widely debated. The Standard reported in 2007 that, “a comparison of the number of cameras in each London borough with the proportion of crimes solved there found that police are no more likely to catch offenders in areas with hundreds of cameras than in those with hardly any. In fact, four out of five of the boroughs with the most cameras have a record of solving crime that is below average.”

BBC News later reported in 2009 that, “Only one crime was solved by each 1,000 CCTV cameras in London last year, a report into the city’s surveillance network has claimed. The internal police report found the million-plus cameras in London rarely help catch criminals. In one month CCTV helped capture just eight out of 269 suspected robbers.” BBC further claimed that “there’s been little or no change in London’s crime rates since they [the cameras] were more widely installed in the mid 1980s.”

Despite numerous reports detailing unimpressive facts concerning the city’s security system, the number of surveillance cameras has continued to rise over the years, and British citizens are now being watched by an estimated 51,000 police-run CCTV cameras. (The same amount of public money could have funded 4,121 new police officers). However, when including the number of privately-owned cameras and cameras situated in other public places like train stations and bus depots, the estimate is closer to 1.85 million cameras throughout the city.

A FAMILIAR SIGHT to the London populace, this sign warns that CCTV cameras are overhead.

An article published by the Christian Science Monitor in February of this year says that, “Privacy activists are worried that Britain will become the bleak totalitarian society George Orwell painted in his classic novel “1984,” where citizens were spied on and personal freedom sacrificed for the benefit of an all-powerful state.”

The article continues, “The civil rights group Liberty estimates that the average Londoner is captured on camera around 300 times a day while BBW claims Britain has 20 percent of the world’s CCTV cameras and only 1 percent of the world’s population.”

Stencil Speaks On Immigration

There are disputes over whether this piece is a Banksy graffiti or not, and not that I’m any expert, but given the distinctly stenciled design, I’d wager it was.

Reportedly, the first instance of this work appeared in Bristol, England in 2007 but spread to other cities over a period of months. A deal of controversy arose when in 2009, an instance of the artwork in Glastonbury, England was painted over by volunteers as part of the town council’s anti-graffiti agenda. Being a supposed Banksy, the work was allegedly valued at 5,000 euro, and the owner of the wall on which it was painted, Julian Chatt, had requested the image not be painted over.

The stencil pairs Paddington Bear, a classic fictional character in English children’s literature, with the message “Migration is Not a Crime.” Whether the artist is Banksy or not, the meshing of a serious theme with a children’s character is clever. While the message is clearly intended to be political, it is dampened significantly by the presence of Paddington Bear, a harmless persona. In this instance, the visual innocence is a trump card, making it difficult for anyone to get too riled up about the art or the message.

BANKSY OR NO? - It's disputed as to whether this stenciled work is a true Banksy or not. Regardless, the pairing of an innocent Paddington Bear with a serious message is a clever move by the artist.

This is quite a feat considering immigration is a rising global issue today: a problem with no clear solution, or at least not one escaping a swirl of controversy.

Perhaps I’m making the artist out to be cleverer than even he knew, but I find it interesting that this theme of migration, or immigration, is paired with Paddington Bear, who is evidently known in stories for his capacity to find trouble, despite his always “trying so hard to get things right.”

Issues and disagreements surrounding the policies of immigration are not even closely resolved in the United States and in many other countries. But perhaps this artist is proposing that government officials working on immigration laws, restrictions, and requirements take a lesson from Paddington Bear—just try hard to get things right, even if complications inadvertently arise.

Maybe a far-fetched connection.

But maybe not.

Street Artist Influenced 2008 Obama Campaign

Designed by Chicago-based street artist Ray Noland, this perfectly outlined work of stencil graffiti depicts Obama shaking the hand of America. While no year is listed, it was presumably done shortly after Obama took office. It’s similar to another Chicago piece featured a few postings ago which portrays Obama delivering his Inaugural Address to the American people.

CHICAGO, ILLINOIS - Chicago street artist and graphic designer Ray Nolan depicts newly elected President Obama shaking the hand of America in a tried-and-true gesture of trust and sincerity.

Demonstrated by the oldest gesture of friendship and trust in the book—the handshake—this piece is a spot-on representation of the relationship between the president and the American public. It makes no qualms about the expectations of the president, who gives his word to be honest and fair to U.S. citizens with the simple shake of a hand.

Dubbed “the creator of Barack Obama street art,” Nolan’s designs contributed to swells of support for Obama and his presidential campaign in 2008. His most significant contribution was the “Go Tell Mama” campaign, in which a number of materials—posters, buttons, t-shirts, etc—were mass screen-printed with the slogan “Go Tell Mama I’m For Obama.” The campaign was not limited to the streets however, but went viral with an animated video as well. While the campaign had its roots in Chicago, its accompanying images and message quickly spread to other cities like Detroit and New York, making Nolan a subject of mass influence.

GO TELL MAMA - The first poster in the "Go Tell Mama I'm For Obama" campaign initiated by Ray Nolan featured Obama's face surrounded by megaphones resonating with shouts of support. A rally on Obama's shoulders shows supporters picketing with signs containing messages like "Surge of Diplomacy."

Nolan continues to feature Obama in a number of his works, rallying the populace to back the president again as runs for reelection this year.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In this YouTube video, street artist Ray Nolan talks to the Chicago Tribune about his “Go Tell Mama” campaign and other designs featuring Obama. 

Yee-Haw: Bush’s Cowboy Persona

Quick on the draw and trigger-happy, George W. Bush is portrayed a sharp shooter on a brick wall in Sydney, Australia. His played-up Roy Rogers image evidently carried overseas.

SET 'EM UP - Former President George W. Bush Jr. depicted a true cowboy on a brick wall in Sydney, Australia. The subject of much mockery, his identity as a cowboy was not received well overseas.

Almost from the beginning of his presidency, Bush was graced with an American cowboy stereotype. His propensity to speak in Bushisms (common characteristics include, but are not limited to: malapropisms, mispronunciations, unconventional words, and grammatically incorrect subject-verb agreement) certainly didn’t harm the image.

An article in Americana, an American Pop Culture Magazine, notes that editorial writers and public figures frequently began describing Bush in ‘cowboy-esque’ terms following the September 11, 2001 attacks. As terrorism surfaced a topic of hot discussion, commentators began to portray Bush as a sheriff in the Old West “who would go it alone without a posse if need be in order to defeat what he saw as lawlessness and evil.”

In the months leading up to the start of the War in Iraq, the representation of Bush as a straight-shootin’ Wyatt Earp-wannabe continued. In an address to the nation on March 17, 2003, Bush declared, “Saddam Hussein and his sons must leave Iraq within 48 hours. Their refusal to do so will result in military conflict, commenced at a time of our choosing.” (Americana)

Bold and threatening, the ultimatum added fuel to the fire. Bush, not one to cool his guns, was depicted by several news articles as a Matt Dillon-type who told outlaws to get the hell out of Dodge or face the consequential shootout. Reuters even ran a story on March 19, 2003 entitled “High Noon for Cowboy Era,” in which the opening sentence declared that Bush’s ultimatum was a throwback to the Wild West for Arabs.

Turns out, the cowboy image was received fairly positively by Americans, especially among conservatives, who (at the time, anyway) found the good-ole-boy-from-the-South-persona endearing. The American fascination with the cowboy is a long-standing one, after all. Among other parts of the world, however, a negative image of the cowboy reinforced disgust with Bush’s handling of various policies, including his actions toward the Iraq situation.

This image, an outright mockery of Bush’s cowboy identity, clearly sides with those feelings of disgust.

Almost Like A Stamp

It’s almost like a stamp.

This piece of political art, showing Bill Clinton—complete with an ‘I’m Awesome’ look in his eye and a stereotypical cool-guy head jerk—is etched on a street corner in Berlin, Germany.

STAMPING GROUNDS - On a street corner in Berlin, Germany, this stamped stencil graffiti calls President Clinton a pimp in reference to his extramarital affair with White House intern Monica Lewinksy.

It reflects an opinion on the Monica Lewinksy sex scandal that came to light in 1998 concerning an extramarital affair between United States President Bill Clinton and 22 year-old Lewinsky, a White House intern at the time. While the relationship was kept under wraps until 1998, it was allegedly begun in 1995 when Lewinsky first began her internship.

The subsequent investigation of the nature of the relationship led to the impeachment of President Clinton by the House of Representatives, although he was later acquitted of all impeachment charges of perjury and obstruction of justice by a Senate trial.

Only six years old at the time, I do not remember the news or the reactions that followed. I don’t remember any detail about Clinton’s presidency, and it’s probably a safe bet that most of the American public doesn’t recall anything other than the scandal. It’s likely even a guarantee that a majority of the public can recite on-the-spot the phrase which is debatably the most famous line ever said by Clinton: “I did not have sexual relations with that woman.” He didn’t know when he was saying it that he’d just created a great punch line.

Another equally brilliant line uttered by Clinton, although perhaps less well-known, was in reference to the meaning of the word ‘is’ (since that clearly confuses so many). In response the truthfulness of his statement that “there is not a sexual relationship, an improper sexual relationship or any other kind of improper relationship,” Clinton answered that it depended on what the meaning of the word ‘is’ is. Now THAT’s desperation. Talk about REALLY reaching for something.

Whatever good may have been remembered about Clinton and his presidency, it was, and still is, completely overshadowed by that scandal. The Lewinksy affair is a dark mark on his term in office and on his reputation as a man.

Almost like a stamp.

Bush Butchery Slaughters America

These two graffiti illustrations are not found together, but are in fact two separate pieces on different walls in different cities. I thought it appropriate to group them together, given the common butchery theme.

The first is designed in the spirit of a company logo with a name (Bush & Sons), a slogan (‘family butchers since 1989’) and a fitting icon (recently used butcher knife). Compared to the second piece of art, a stencil graffiti piece, it’s fairly mild in nature.

BUSH BUTCHERY - The first of these two commonly themed graffiti illustrations resembles a company logo.

Behold the not-so-mild work of art: George Bush sporting the American flag as an apron and looking all too ready to exact vengeance on his next victim. Notice the butcher knife in hand (also recently used), and if I’m not mistaken, what appears to be blood dripping from the side of his mouth. I can’t quite make out the words, but given the Jack-the-Ripper theme, I’m sure they’re not pleasantries.

BUTCHERING AMERICA - The second graffiti illustration has Bush wearing an American flag for an apron and holding a butcher knife, clearly symbolizing that he has butchered America. More accusatory than the first, it also employs a much more controversial graphic.

Obviously Bush has plenty of haters. Under his administration, a lot of controversial legislation and widely-disliked policies were enacted. Bush initiated the No Child Left Behind Act and pushed for socially conservative efforts like the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act and faith-based welfare initiatives. He declared a War on Terrorism after the September 11, 2001 attacks and during his term, the U.S. invaded both Afghanistan and Iraq. He pushed huge tax cuts, collectively known as the ‘Bush tax cuts,’ and was also confronted with an economic recession and massive immigration problems. A number of these policies, actions, and initiatives were strongly opposed by a large portion of the public, and by the end of his second term in 2008, Bush had lost a lot of his popularity and support and suffered through scathing criticisms.

But does that warrant art like this? I don’t know. The focus of these pieces seems not so much an attack on policy or action, but on the man himself. There’s a clear message that HE butchered America (figuratively speaking, of course). But one man is not responsible for the state of America today, just as one man could never fix it.

For whatever reason, as Americans, we expect the President to fix everything. We vote based on who we think can change everything for the better. That’s naïve. The President is just another person like the rest of us, and therefore, all we can really expect of him is his best effort.

‘No Future’ Mural Is Short-Lived

Another piece of Banksy genius…

This mural, done in 2010, features a colorless and rather petulant looking child holding a red balloon which forms the ‘o’ in the phrase ‘NO FUTURE.’ It appeared on the side of a private home in an area of Southampton, England known for its lively nightlife and drinking culture. According to BBC News, the mural increased the worth of the privately owned house by 20,000 euro.

SOUTHAMPTON, ENGLAND - One of Banksy's most short-lived works, the 'No Future' mural attracted a flurry of attention before it was whitewashed over by an unknown protester hours later.

In 2010, Banksy was still entirely a mystery to the English populace, but his works of politically-charged street art were popping up all over the country. Catching the artist at work proved fruitless, but as people tried to discover the man behind the spray can, it became somewhat of a game to rush to find Banksy’s latest painting.

When this mural was found, it drew the attention of BBC News, the press, the art elite, and pedestrian passerby. Only hours after it was discovered, however, the image of the child was painted over with whitewash and the words changed to “GRAFFITI HAS NO FUTURE.” It is still unknown who censored the graffiti.

As with all of Banksy’s art, the message is quite simple, succinct, and clever while the illustration carries the true message—one of social protest.

It’s a shame, however, that the work was ruined. It only proves all too well that the argument over whether graffiti is art or crime is a potent one. Banksy’s work has on several occasions been called egotistic, with critics saying that his outspoken messages and longstanding anonymity show he has an “I-can-get-away-with-it” attitude and a “look-what-I-can-do” demeanor.

I disagree. I don’t think Banksy is trying to get away with anything. I think, as with all street artists who have social and political messages, he’s trying to let people take away something.