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‘Banksyland’ exhibit highlights the art and activism of a notorious artist

Guests admire works on the wall at the "Banksyland" exhibit.
Guests admire works on the wall at “Banksyland,” a touring exhibition showing art by Banksy at the Westside Museum space in Costa Mesa.
(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)
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Graffiti artist, painter, photographer, filmmaker and activist Banksy has made a career of creating art that isn’t consumed in conventional ways. Working in anonymity, Banksy and his handling service, Pest Control, are known to blend street art with art installations and performance art, often with an anti-authoritarian and anti-capitalism bent.

A caveat of making popular guerrilla art is that often it can’t be enjoyed by the people it is meant to reach.

“By the time Banksy’s works gets on the wall, half the time it is chiseled out and sold to private collectors,” said Britt Reyes, vice president of operations for Banksyland.

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“Banksyland,” an immersive touring exhibition, is working to change that.

Guests walk by "Smiling Copper" at the "Banksyland" exhibit.
Guests walk by “Smiling Copper” at the “Banksyland” exhibit in Costa Mesa.
(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

“Our goal is to create accessibility for this work,” Reyes said.

Beginning Jan. 27, “Banksyland” comes to Costa Mesa’s Westside Museum as part of a 22-city tour with studio works, salvaged street artworks and immersive installations.

“We have curated around 100 pieces of Banksy’s works as well as some hand-created depictions of his pieces and experiential moments that he has done,” Reyes said.

The exhibition is unauthorized, but that doesn’t mean the work isn’t authentic Banksy.

“Being unauthorized is the verbiage that we use to convey that this is not produced by Banksy,” Reyes said. “He did not contribute any new works for this.”

Reyes notes, however, that Banksy and Pest Control are aware of the show. “Banksyland” even offered 100% of the proceeds to the artist, which he declined.

“Banksyland” is produced by One Thousand Ways, an international experiential arts collective. The works are on loan from galleries as well as private collectors.

“These pieces are graciously on lend to us because these gallery owners understand the message of Banksy needs to be shared with the world,” said Reyes.

"Banksyland" features signed and authenticated editions from Banksy’s studio.
“Banksyland” features signed and authenticated editions from Banksy’s studio, though the artist declined profits from the exhibit.
(Courtesy of Banksyland)

The immersive exhibition is a multimedia art experience that features multiple authenticated works and replica installations that highlight the art and activism of Banksy.

“He has so many social justice efforts and he brings so much to light about the injustices around the world,” said Reyes. “We have really curated selections that speak to that, whether it is advocating for refugees, for the LGBTQ community, folks in poverty without access to clean water, we have seen him really make these points.”

Salvaged street works, authenticated screen prints and photography are part of the exhibit.

“You are also going see multimedia here,” said Reyes. “You are going to see some projections come up, really giving you that immersive experience and environmental context.”

Many of Banksy’s works are moments in time, a form of temporary art activism that is gone as quickly and stealthily as it appeared. The works are not of the sort that can be displayed in an art gallery. In 2006 for example, Banksy hosted “Barely Legal: A Three Day Vandalized Warehouse Extravaganza” in Los Angeles, which featured a live elephant painted in a pink-and-gold floral pattern to match the wallpaper behind it.

The "Banksyland" exhibition includes work from private collections.
(Courtesy of Banksyland)

“This was a 6,000-pound Indian elephant, spray-painted head, tail to tusk in matching paint, calling out the elephant in the room,” Reyes said. “That moment in time, 1.3 billion people lived below the global poverty line, and yet the wealth and influence with the celebrities that first entered the first day of that exhibit could have almost instantaneously solved that issue for millions of people.”

While “Banksyland” isn’t able to bring in a live elephant, the show recaptures the feeling and sparks the dialogue of the original moment in other ways.

“We have a hand-painted creation by our team that gets to share that message,” said Reyes. “That is an example of something we have had to reinspire and depict.”

Reyes said she hopes this Orange County stop will inspire tough conversations, like those she has seen at previous stops along the tour. In Texas, Reyes recalls a young man who was taken with Banksy’s “Walled Off Hotel” works, which address the West Bank Wall, the concrete barrier separating Israel from the Palestinian territories.

“He walked around the exhibit for five minutes and came back and considered these pieces again,” said Reyes.

Guests walk by some infamous artworks at the "Banksyland" exhibit in Costa Mesa.
(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

She then observed an elderly gentleman approach him.

“He walks over and he is like, ‘What are you looking at? What does it mean?’” Reyes said. “He then went on to share that he is Palestinian. He wanted to come specifically for these pieces to see that this message is getting out but also to share it with his father who is stuck on the other side.”

The show runs Friday through Sunday from noon to 8 p.m., and general admission tickets are priced at $29, $22 for students. While tickets are expected to sell out, Reyes emphasizes that attempts at equity will be made.

“We always say if anyone is of hardship, any student, anyone who wants to come in the door and not pay, we always welcome them,” said Reyes. “Again, our mission is to make this art accessible.”

"Stop Rat" a popular piece by the artist Banksy at the "Banksyland" exhibit.
“Stop Rat” a popular piece by the artist Banksy at the “Banksyland” exhibit.
(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

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