Banksy Spray Paints Murals in War-Torn Ukraine

We may not know for sure the iden­ti­ty of Banksy, the Eng­lish street artist famous for his social-com­men­tary graf­fi­ti murals inspired and inte­grat­ed with their sur­round­ings. But giv­en his appar­ent inter­ests, we might have sus­pect­ed him to turn up in Ukraine soon­er or lat­er. Recent­ly post­ed by Banksy him­self, the video above shows him at work in the region of Kyiv, the Ukrain­ian cap­i­tal, each of which makes a visu­al com­ment on this year’s Russ­ian inva­sion and the for­ti­tude Ukraine’s peo­ple have shown against it. “As is typ­i­cal of Banksy’s work,” writes The Art News­pa­per’s Torey Akers, “the artist’s edits com­bine a satirist’s edge for wink­ing com­men­tary with a sin­cere invest­ment in polit­i­cal sol­i­dar­i­ty.”’s Jacque­lyne Ger­main describes a few of Banksy’s new works in Ukraine, begin­ning with two in the near­ly aban­doned town of Borodyan­ka. “Paint­ed on the side of a crum­bling build­ing,” one piece “depicts a gym­nast doing a hand­stand on a pile of rub­ble.”

In anoth­er, “a young boy flips an old­er man onto his back in a judo match. Some spec­u­late that the old­er man is Russ­ian Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin, who is known to be a judo enthu­si­ast.” (Banksy has devel­oped a dis­tinc­tive sen­si­bil­i­ty in his decades of pub­lic art, but sub­tle­ty isn’t its fore­most ele­ment.) His images put up else­where “jux­ta­pose wartime imagery with snap­shots of civil­ian life: in one, chil­dren ride a met­al tank trap as a see­saw,” and in anoth­er “a woman in her dress­ing gown wears a gas mask.”

The con­flict in Ukraine now approach­es its tenth month, with no clear signs of an end to the vio­lence. Civil­ian life can’t go on, yet must go on, and it comes as no sur­prise that Banksy would find some­thing to draw upon in that har­row­ing and con­tra­dic­to­ry state of affairs. Nor could it have been lost on him what con­tex­tu­al pow­er the sham­bol­ic urban envi­ron­ments of Borodyan­ka, Hos­tomel, and Horen­ka — towns lit­er­al­ly torn apart by war — could grant even murals humor­ous­ly spray-paint­ed upon its sur­faces.

At the end of the video, Akers notes, “a heat­ed local man points to an image the artist paint­ed on a graf­fi­tied wall so that a pre-exist­ing tag of a penis became a war­head atop an armored truck and declares, ‘For this, I would kick out all his teeth and break his legs.’ ” Even in a war zone, every­body’s a crit­ic.

Relat­ed con­tent:

The Mak­ing of Mod­ern Ukraine: A Free Online Course from Yale Pro­fes­sor Tim­o­thy Sny­der

Banksy’s Great British Spray­ca­tion: The Artist Spray Paints England’s Favorite Sum­mer-Hol­i­day Des­ti­na­tions

Banksy Debuts His COVID-19 Art Project: Good to See That He Has TP at Home

The Joy of Paint­ing with Bob Ross & Banksy: Watch Banksy Paint a Mur­al on the Jail That Once Housed Oscar Wilde

Banksy Paints a Grim Hol­i­day Mur­al: Season’s Greet­ings to All

How Ukraine’s Works of Art Are Being Saved in Wartime — Using the Lessons of World War II

Why Rus­sia Invad­ed Ukraine: A Use­ful Primer

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities, the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

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