Stephanie Richmond reflects on Banksy’s Valentine’s Day message of love; misunderstood and now unseen.
I am writing this on the morning of the day the new ‘Valentine’s Banksy’, unveiled only the day before in Barton Hill, has been vandalised. I feel the need to highlight the obvious, profound context of the piece, and the sheer irony of its defacement, before it is lost forever to fellow graffiti artists or the storms.
The graffiti is located on the side of the house and depicts a young girl, hood up, firing a cascade of red flowers, which look like a bursting firework, with a catapult, into the air. ‘Talk’ about the artwork thus far, has oriented around ‘themes of innocence and violence,’ likening the little girl to ‘Cupid’, and even stating that Banksy is obviously a ‘romantic at heart.’ But these analogies are far from the point which Banksy is clearly trying to make.
First of all, the protagonist is a little girl, who represents the youth of today. She is using a rudimentary weapon, which symbolises her angst and her ability to fight back with distinct accuracy, given only the basic resources available to her at the time. She looks confident in her ability to aim and adopts an almost ‘ballerina-like’ pose, denoting the fluidity of the action; second nature.
Secondly, the red flowers cascading, which I am learned are composed of roses and ivy, represent love, and yet spread danger and alarm. The ‘firework-like’ shower is analogous to her setting off a flare, warning everyone of imminent danger, whilst simultaneously, conversely, depicting the spread of love and on the contrary, blood with respect to the former, throughout the World. The fact that it has appeared on Valentine’s Day has amplified its poignance.
The sheer fragility of the piece is synonymous with the backdrop of time and the environment, especially considering the Extinction Rebellion movement which was gathering momentum until the recent shift to the right in UK Politics further consolidated by the recent election result, and Brexit. In other words, its vulnerability is analogous to the imminency in which we should all ‘heed the call’.
Finally, the fact that it has been vandalised with pink spray, only a day after the owners of the property pleaded to Bristol City Council to help them preserve it, to no avail, with the words, ‘B C C Wankers’ and a badly drawn heart, is profoundly ironic. The artwork has cropped up in an extremely deprived area, familiar to Banksy, which has been subject to massive budget cuts, where there is extreme poverty. When I first saw it, only a few hours after it was unveiled, as I work on the Barton Hill Trading Estate, just around the corner, I was overwhelmed by the sheer vibrant energy, and the simple beauty of the depiction, that was being generated. As a result, this is perceived as a beautiful treat for such a struggling area.
However, now that it has been defaced, only a day later, by the shoddy hand of a similar ilk, one can only suppose that its true meaning is lost in the inevitable decay of the very population it is trying to reach and represent. Let this piece not lose its poignance. Let it be a warning and encourage the next generation to stand up and be counted and rise above the oppressive powers which limit their supplies and opportunities and quash their fight. Let’s hope the image has burned a hole in the retinas of the folk whom have seen it and its resonance spreads love, in the backdrop of danger, like a red flare, cascading light on the ocean, as it would; hope on the waves of time.