Banksy, Hull, Brexit and Culture

A genuine Banksy piece in little old Scott Street in Hull. Who’d have thunk it?

This week it emerged that the one and only Banksy had visited us up here in the ex-UK City of Culture. It was confirmed when the picture appeared on Banksy’s official Instagram account. A wave of excitement swept the city with such speed that little was said regarding what the work actually meant, or why Banksy had chosen Hull for this particular piece.

The piece consists of young boy purched atop an existing piece of graffiti, with a sword in his hand (which has a pencil attached to the end) and a colander on his head, next to the slogan “DRAW THE RAISED BRIDGE”. On the surface it’s quite entertaining, purely because it’s a drawing on a disused, permanently raised bridge. As with almost all of Banksy’s work, however, there’s a considerably deeper meaning. The actual title is ‘Raise the drawbridge’, which many have taken to be a reference to the British public’s increasingly negative attitude towards immigration.

Immigration was, and continues to be, one of the key issues surrounding the 2016 referendum on leaving the EU. A referendum which saw 67.6% of voters in Kingston Upon Hull voting to leave, despite Hull benefitting from millions of pounds of EU Regional Development funding and having a hugely rich multicultural history stretching back generations. You would naturally assume that the people of Hull would be a bit more keen on staying in the EU, but perhaps Hull voting so decisively in favour of leaving is why it was chosen for this particular piece.

It’s possible that Banksy’s depiction of a child refers to the apparent immaturity of the stereotypical Brexiteer: Wanting to have their cake and eat it in terms of benefits of EU membership, and Politicians and the corporate elite happily playing games with the country’s future for personal financial or political gain. The sword with a pencil attached is possibly a way of showing that words are being used as weapons in the constant disputes within the Conservative government regarding Brexit, and between Britain and the EU. The referendum was, of course, a battle fought with scare tactics, misinformation and undeliverable promises, primarily from the Leave campaign. The manipulation of the British public to turn them against the EU and immigration on a whole was carried out through tabloid newspapers, social media and campaign letters/flyers. The pen is mightier than the sword.

It’s difficult when considering the above to see this work from Banksy as anything other than an insult. It’s a slap in the face of Little Britons, a belittling of the stereotypically aggressive yet intellectually toothless right-winger. This stereotype can justifiably be applied to Hull.

Looking at this artwork in this way brings about a bit of an internal struggle. Half of me is thrilled to have Banksy grace the city in which I was born and raised, with the other half ashamed that it can be viewed as a poke in the eye for the UK capital of xebophobia and stupidity that led to Brexit. Either way, objectively I can’t argue with it. If this is indeed Banksy’s message, he’s absolutely right. Though undoubtedly the people at which that message should be aimed would not take the slightest bit of notice.

Update 28/01/18: The Banksy piece has been defaced. An unknown individual has whitewashed over the artwork. Some locals have visited and attempted to clean off the white paint with a good level of success.


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