Arts Festival

Ode to the superman vandal in our midst



SEASON’S greetings. Banksy’s 2018 bitter comment on pollution in his work in Port Talbot, Wales. Photograph courtesy

ARE YOU, PERHAPS, Banksy in your private life? Do you slip out of context, don a workman’s overall and become invisible as you paint clever mischief through stencils or spray cans onto unsuspecting public walls? The core of sheer documentary gold is to start with a story so unbelievable that it seems too good to be true. This is the underlying beauty of Aurélia Rouvier and Laurent Richard’s Banksy Most Wanted, a sexy documentary about the world’s richest, best known and most anonymous artist, which make it riveting viewing. It features on this year’s Encounters South African International Documentary Film Festival, available online from 20 until 30 August 2020. Because of the ongoing pandemic, access to this festival is free of charge.

But it is not only that core which the filmmakers rely on here. Like the Bell Pottinger work Influence, which opens this festival on 20 August, the film itself is richly layered in a strong narrative line, in succinct bites from interviews and in footage which will hold your concentration from beginning to end. With roots in Bristol, England, and a past and present hidden in mystery, Banksy established himself as the graffiti artist of the era. His work is politically sardonic, uncompromising to the ruling regime, and has popped up all over the world. It’s also fetching enormous prices.

Journalists have wracked their research acumen to try and pinpoint who he is. And as each case study in this film unfolds, you hold onto your seat: there’s a part of you which wants the magic of anonymity in a world consumed by narcissism, where google and social media seem to know everything about everybody, to be retained. The Banksy mystery has even reached into the curiosity muscles of serial killer profilers with what one can describe as mixed success.

From his prank at Sotheby’s in 2018, which fiercely thrust a middle finger at the art establishment with a work up for auction, rigged to self-destruct with the ‘sold’ bang of the gavel, to his gesture revealing his heart and soul (but not his face) to a beleaguered boxing club in Barton Hill, a suburb of Bristol, Banksy emerges as a three-dimensional character with strong opinions and a real sense of value. But does he emerge? In some respects, and under the comments of everyone from artists to art dealers, citizens of Folkestone and the boxing club owner’s son, Banksy is the Robin Hood of visual art. He’s also the Picasso or the Andy Warhol of this generation, reinventing what art is about, who it is for, and why it matters.

This is a ten out of ten work: edited astutely and put together with an eye for the Banksy aficionado, the spy thriller fan and the ordinary bloke on the street. It’s a work with levity and depth about a mysterious narrative as it is one that embraces the morality of cutting out a piece of graffiti from a public space and rekindling its validity in an art museum. It’s about value and time and trickery and will leave you breathless but with a vindicating grin on your face. Banksy seemingly gets away from the cloying expectations of thousands of years of visual art traditions. And wins. Don’t miss this one!

  • Banksy Most Wanted is written by Aurélia Rouvier and Laurent Richard and directed by Aurélia Rouvier and Seamus Haley. Produced by Laurent Richard, it features creative input by Seamus Haley (editing), Thomas Carterton (original music), Sébastien Tete (sound) and David Lassalle (mix). It features on the Encounters International South African Documentary Film Festival which runs from 20-30 August 2020, and this year is accessible online and without charge.

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