Few contemporary artists have been the subject of quite so many rumors as Banksy. Depending on what you believe, the anonymous, larger-than-life British graffiti artist is not one man, but a collective of people. He participates in social media–or not. His identity has been revealed several time–or not. Oh and he’s might actually be a she.*
And now this: “Banksy used to work in a butcher shop.” This latest rumor has surfaced after the artist commissioned a slaughterhouse delivery truck to drive dozens of children’s stuffed animals around the New York City. The piece, called Sirens of the Lambs, confronted passers by with sounds of squeeling and crying and is part of a month long, outdoor exhibition appearing throughout the streets of New York.
Then, on Wednesday, Banksy followed the truck with a second rather overt comment on the food system. The piece, called “Shoeshine,” depicts Ronald McDonald “waiting impassively as his ridiculously oversized clown shoes are buffed to a fine shine,” according to the accompanying audio recording on the Banksy Web site. The sculpture appeared first in the South Bronx, but will be outside of a different McDonald’s in New York every day for a week.
The recording depicts Ronald as “the most sculpted figure in history after Christ” and describes his statuesque pose as “indicative of how corporations have become the historical figures of our era.” Indeed, the artwork is as much a critique of the ubiquity and power of mega-corporations as it is about fast food specifically. But it probably won’t be lost on most viewers that food corporation are some of the biggest and most powerful corporations in today’s world.
Although this fact isn’t mentioned on the artist’s site, the piece may also have been inspired by the fast-food worker walkouts that took place this summer, as it made its first appearance on the strike lines in Los Angeles in August.
This isn’t the first Banksy work to comment on Big Food food either. Take this piece of graffiti, which shows a coyote dragging the head of Colonel Sanders, or the elaborate installation called “Village Pet Store and Charcoal Grill,” which featured fish sticks and hot dogs in cages where animals would normally be found. Ronald McDonald has also appeared in several other pieces. In all this work, the world of food provides a visceral window onto larger questions of power, violence, and manipulation in a way that has the power to cut through the fog of rumor and stand on its own.
*Okay, I made that last one up. But I can’t be the first person to wonder.
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