The Only Living Boy In New York - Why Banksy’s Art In The Big Apple Is Worth A Documentary

Archita Kashyap - 72 weeks ago

Banksy is a global name to reckon with because he made the fringe mainstream in the most meaningful manner - by making art accessible to all, making it a public asset. Which is why, his ‘Better in than out’ stance in New York City for a month became the subject of a fascinating documentary, of 30 days of Banksy’s art work appearing anywhere across the city and creating an alternative frenzy of it’s own kind. Banksy In New York is just the right documentary to understand the greatest living artist of our times for the uninitiated.

Tokyo has been debating over a rat for some time now. As a new emperor settles down to reign, a rat spray painted on an important government building has been decreed a Banksy, even as loyalists following the iconic graffiti artist debate it’s authenticity. The government of Japan has asked the anonymous street artist to clarify if he objects to this stenciled rat being credited to him. It took weeks before commoners walking by the building took notice and notified city authorities that they might have a Banksy on their concrete. 

(Banksy's art work on a wall during his New York stay in 2013 as part of his 'Better in than out' stance) 

Such is the magic of Banksy who has managed to pull the impossible in the 21st century. In this day and age of everything being clicked, talked about and shared online all the time, Banksy, the British graffiti and street artist remains anonymous. No one knows who Banksy really is or what he looks like. But everyone who walks on a city street of Bristol, London, New York and some other spots, is witness to his radical and powerful art works. Of course, his fast growing global legend has made him a target within the graffiti artist fraternity in England. He is seen as a middle class upstart who has become a celebrity in the space of the defiant underground, with his public art being valued at millions. His tongue in cheek, Spy Booth, a quirky take on the GCHQ (British signal intelligence and surveillance corps), which he created on a public phone booth, was vandalized by fellow graffiti artists, in a developing trend where his art is defined as privileged and therefore, misplaced on street walls. Internal debates amongst street artists aside, Banksy is a global name to reckon with because he made the fringe mainstream in the most meaningful manner - by making art accessible to all, making it a public asset. Which is why, his ‘Better in than out’, 30 days spent in New York City in 2013, literally painting the Big Apple a new shade of surprise everyday, is the subject of a fascinating documentary. Banksy’s unpredictable and telling artwork appeared across the city, creating an alternative frenzy of it’s own kind. To be the first posting Banksy’s latest on Instagram and Twitter, got fans going crazy while authorities typically hunted for him to protect public property. 

Banksy Does New York by Chris Moukarbel is part reportage and part narrative that aptly captures the depth and impact of the artist on peoples’ lives. The filmmaker talks to fans, fellow artists, art experts and social commentators to put together a picture of the significance of Banksy in a city that is so clearly defined by it’s money. 

(One of Banksy's street art featured in Banksy Does New York

As artist, his work has universal reach and appeal as they tackle issues that affect urban lives across metropolises everywhere. Here in New York, the most important matter was where would Banksy present his next artwork. Like it always is in wealth fuelled economic hubs (Mumbai, Singapore, Hong Kong, Dubai, London) the where of these artworks took on more significant than the what. In surprising and maintaining unpredictability, and in bringing a smile on to the onlooker’s face, the artist didn’t disappoint. So multiple work of graffiti scrawling appeared across New York's busy districts. From junkyards, to unused tunnels to upscale addresses, a little bit of Banksy turned up at a lot of places in NYC. 

(Spy Booth, a quirky take on the British GCHQ)

Anti establishment art in motion, like the Sirens of the Lambs, which involved a slaughterhouse truck stuffed with cute stuffed doll piglets and lambs squealing in fear drove around the Meatpacking District and meat shops in the neighbourhood. Reversing the art establishment and it’s elite exclusivity, Banksy displayed a pair of paintings hung under a Chelsea bridge, with a wine cooler and a viewing bench kept handy for public display, taking on the upmarket galleries in this neighbourhood. The most outstanding piece of art in this 30-day stint is when the artist hired an elderly man to run a stall of his originals selling for just 60 dollars each. Most didn’t buy these assuming they were fake, and a tourist from Chicago bought 4 as he needed to hang something on his walls. Simple as that! A woman even bargained the man down to two pieces for 60 each. That pricing art, making it an inaccessible asset for most has become the norm, bereft of it’s honesty and true purpose, couldn’t have stood out more clearly than this particular Banksy piece of living art. 

(Banksy's street art at one of NYC street)

A street artist who explains his fascination with rats as one that stems from being ordinary and common in present day society, this Bristol boy has become a global icon for taking on the establishment without violence of speech and thought. His trip to Palestine where he painted upon the much disputed wall, or his occasional drop ins into high nosed art establishments like the Metropolitan Museum of Modern Art, New York, goes on to re-prove his spirit of sharing the value of art. With this documentary, one gets to construct an image of a free spirited individual who has influenced so many by just making them think freely. If one can see a Banksy in Bristol, London or elsewhere in person, watching Banksy Does New York is a good introduction to the greatest living artist of our times.

(Banksy Does New York is currently playing on myNK)


Banksy Does New York / Banksy / Graffiti / Chris Moukarbel / Street Art / Spy Booth / London / Better In Than Out

The views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of The Film Hashery.

Sign up to get access to the stories behind films and conversations on cinema worldwide.