Banksy stands alone in the domain of popular culture as an artist who even your nan has probably heard of, but even his most devout fan couldn't name if they fell over him (or her or them). Banksy is less a person than it is an idea; a defiantly populist, and yet strongly anti-authoritarian artist existing to hold up the mirrors we refuse to hold up ourselves, and, in doing so, revealing the tragic and ridiculous nature of modern society in a manner that's both broadly satirical and oddly beautiful.
Whilst the artist (who might be Robert Del Naja from Massive Attack, but probably isn't) rose to fame through his iconic, guerrilla street art, it's through his more ambitious 'stunts' that he really penetrated the public consciousness. From his numerous 'secret' pop-up galleries and installing fake Guantanamo Bay detainees in Disneyland, to sneaking his own works into major galleries in New York and, of course, the epic Dismaland experience in Weston-Super-Mare, near his home in Bristol, Banksy has made widescale subversion his stock in trade. After Dismaland closed after its brief run in August and September 2015, he even sent wood and fixtures from the park's dismantled castle to the Jungle refugee camp in Calais, where he added a mural of Steve Jobs in his signature black polo neck, holding an early Apple computer in one hand while slinging a black sack over his shoulder. This latest stunt, however, might be his most ambitious yet, and is his first concept that is intended to exist indefinitely.
I'm referring to his recently erected “all-inclusive vandals resort” in Bethlehem, located five metres from the wall that separates Israel from the Palestinian West Bank. Banksy, who have never been afraid to tackle politically charged works, converted a former pottery workshop into the Walled Off Hotel, which includes a tea shop, art gallery and graffiti supplies store. It sits in the middle of stretch of the barrier, that is heavily painted by Banksy himself other likeminded artists. Banksy describes the facility as an “open-hearted community resource” that is not allied to any political party or pressure group, but instead acts as a sort of refuge for anyone opposed to the conflict and segregation represented by the wall. This idea is reaffirmed by its location in Area C, a section that (unlike many parts of the West Bank) is open to Israelis and Palestinians alike.
The man himself said in a statement: “It's exactly one hundred years since Britain took control of Palestine and started rearranging the furniture – with chaotic results. I don't know why, but it felt like a good time to reflect on what happens when the United Kingdom makes a huge political decision without fully comprehending the consequences.”
Inside, the hotel has been decorated to resemble an English gentlemen's club; a cheeky reference to Britain's role in the region during the colonial period. Hoping to modernise the style, Banksy has altered the opulent decorations to resemble images recently seen in the media. So we have, for example, oil-painted seascapes featuring refugees' lifejackets, and statues that appear to be choking on tear-gas fumes. Banksy has decorated the majority of corridors and bedrooms within the hotel, meanwhile, using a variety of his trademark stencils. However, some rooms will be decorated by visiting artists such as Sami Musa from the Palestinian city of Ramallah and French-Canadian Dominique Petrin. Rooms range from a presidential suite to a more affordable budget option (which is probably still more expensive than your average B&B), and while the higher-priced room is equipped with a hot tub and access to a roof garden, the smaller ones are filled with bunkbeds salvaged from an army barracks. It's scaled consistency then.
An art gallery is also situated on the first floor, and will exclusively show work made in the region, with its curator Ismal Duddera stating that eh feels it will “open an entirely new chapter of Arab art in general and Palestinian art in particular.” There is also a museum adjoining the hotel, which Banksy hopes will explain the wall to the tourists who pass it to get to Bethlehem's holy sites. It's all “very Banksy,” but then, what else did you expect?
Benjamin Hiorns is a freelance writer and struggling musician from Kidderminster in the UK who went to Dismaland, had a truly wonderful time and feels rather bad about it.