In recent years there has been a renewed interest in street art, coinciding with the rise of the anti-capitalist movement. One element of this is “culture jamming” or “adbusting”, where activists use guerrilla art techniques to subvert the advertising that pervades our society.
Adbusting shows up how adverts sell us impossible dreams, by highlighting the massive gap between the promise and reality of consumer products.
The British artist Banksy is the most prominent representative of this new trend. His work is now internationally famous – and he is also one of the most explicitly political street artists working today.
Banksy’s message is one of opposition to war, the establishment and capitalism. He has travelled to Chiapas – the area of Mexico controlled by the Zapatista revolutionary group – and to Palestine, where he has supported popular struggles for freedom through his art.
As part of his work, Banksy carries out stunts that aim to puncture the self-important bubble of the official art world, such as secretly “installing” one of his paintings in the Tate Britain gallery in London.
Some of Banksy’s stunts are directly aimed at raising political issues. Last September he dressed an inflatable doll as a Guantanamo Bay prisoner – and then placed the figure within the Big Thunder Mountain Railroad ride at Disneyland in the US.
Nevertheless, Banksy’s work also shows up the tensions that street art faces under capitalism.
Being a street artist has not prevented him from becoming part of the art market.
Some of his works now sell for tens of thousands of pounds. He also sells limited edition prints and exclusive art objects, just like a conventional artist.