Dismaland, street artist Banksy’s latest and largest project to date, has just opened to the public for an exclusive five-week span. The sardonically named “bemusement park” consists of (but is not limited to) a deteriorating Cinderella castle, a carnival boat game symbolizing immigration problems in Europe, and a partially sunken riot van with its very own ironic children’s slide attached to the side. If you visit the Dismaland website, you can find a video advertisement for the park depicting a nuclear family looking to break out of the despondency of suburbia and they find themselves having the time of their lives at the morbid park. Other features of the park include a killer whale jumping out of a toilet and through a hoop–a clear reference to Sea World and a disturbing upturned carriage with a deceased Cinderella. There is an apparent lack of artistic depth of the work within Dismaland, and the ironic statements found in the exhibits feel pre-packaged and surface level, only to be occasionally accentuated by political commentary. Critics such as Jonathan Jones from The Guardian describes Dismaland as, “not an experience, just a pasteboard substitute for one.”
To be frank, Dismaland is not groundbreaking and it definitely doesn’t require a satirist to breakdown the exhibits at the park. However, I have decided not to accept the superficial irony of Dismaland at face value, but rather explore the idea that Banksy is addressing a deeper societal problem by creating a tacky, dilapidated version of Disneyland.
Banksy has been on the street-art scene since the late 1990’s and he is greatly known for specific themes in his work. Art created by Banksy tends to revolve around anti-capitalism, anti-consumerism, global poverty, and censorship. In his 2005 book, “Wall and Piece,” Banksy states, “We can’t do anything to change the world until capitalism crumbles. In the meantime we should all go shopping to console ourselves.” The renowned street artist has often expressed his distaste for commercial art in a tongue-in-cheek manner, yet his book is famously sold at Urban Outfitters, the mecca of consumerist hipsters. This contradiction reflects the increase of Banksy’s popularity in the past twenty years which has simultaneously resulted in a culture of lazy cynicism, where blindly disliking mainstream ideas has become a consumerist phenomena.
The noticeably unsophisticated and tacky installations that Banksy provides for Dismaland suggests that he may be aware of how his fanbase has changed over time. The entire park could be a mirror for his admirers who inadvertently perpetuate the ideals that Banksy detests so much. Remaining anonymous while creating art on a global platform can make it difficult to retain the artist’s original message. Perhaps I’m giving Banksy far too much credit for his creative ability, but it certainly feels like his new angle is mocking his oblivious fans.