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Banksy makes a jubilee-mocking come-back, but are his contemporary statements a little lagging?

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There are currently two sites which are inescapable on any UK highstreet as they enjoy their ascension with increasing fecundity: the union jack and the humble pound shop. While the latter is a thriving austerity-proof monster growing out of the wrecks of recession-hit highstreets up and down the country, the former is a symbol of hope, of national pride, a flag which is appearing almost everywhere within eye-sight as the country gears up towards two great festivals of British prowess: the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, and the London 2012 Olympic games. But for Banksy, known for making bold current statements against anything which has become accepted and standardised by the great public at large, all the union jacks and the poundshops have proven ripe fodder for his stencil-sprayed artistic derision. Indeed, for those passing by the side of a Poundland store in Turnpike Lane, Haringey (North London) this morning, they would have noticed a new addition to the street – a stencil of a child worker, fastidiously plying his trade in making mass produced union jack bunting. The graffiti, applied with Banksy’s trademark stencil technique, is widely considered to be by the great elusive street artist himself, although this provenance is yet to be confirmed by way of its customary inclusion on Banksy’s official website.

Whether the artist be Banksy or a pretender to the street-art throne, the image is apparently purporting to make a double statement. On the one hand it pokes fun at the proliferation of union jacks which have appeared all over London, England and further afield. We’re not just talking bunting either – the distinctive flag has become the favourite of interior designers who have installed the flag on sofas, artwork, rugs, cushions you name it, while there are even those (with little shame – like Ollie Locke from TV docusoap Made in Chelsea) who have taken to wearing the Union Jack on their clothes and blasted across their cars. Meanwhile in Oxford Street, the union jack is hung repeatedly across the famous shopping thoroughfare, and in humble bakeries the union jack has been iced onto cupcakes in preparation for Diamond Jubilee street parties which, if the weather improves, are expected to be held all over the realm.

Union jack furniture is all the rage

But the artist’s more pressing statement relates to the child labourer, and gives clues as to why Banksy (or whoever it was) chose the location he did: two years ago Poundland was involved in a scandal surrounding a boy of seven who was found to be working 100 hours a week in an Indian sweatshop producing goods for the store. The child, known as Ravi, was reportedly earning just 7p a hour to make napkin rings for the cut-price chain. The company severed ties with the supplier at the time and issued a statement saying it ‘did not tolerate child labour under any circumstances’. Which brings me to the point: is this contemporary statement of Banksy’s really that contemporary at all? Or did it take him two years to find a suitable wall to make his point about pound shop culture?

This trend of Banksy being somewhat behind in his latest up-to-the-minute remonstration was also echoed in his recent gift to Liverpool’s Walker Gallery, which saw the artist make a point about sexual abuse in the Catholic church a little too obviously and, frankly, a little too late to make an impact.

Union jack battenberg anyone?

Nonetheless, while Banksy’s point may come a little too late in terms of the Poundland scandal, there can never be too much exposure of child labour. Meanwhile, for the owner of that wall, the appearance of a potential Banksy original will make him/her very happy indeed – past sales of Banksy graffiti have sold in six figure sums, just as long as you can somehow cut the graffiti and the wall away intact! Sadly, what the graffiti also demonstrates is the level of general disrespect which exists within British society. Within hours of the artwork being painted, the union jack bunting, which was stuck onto the stencil, had been stolen. How very predictable these idiots are. The bunting will be worthless detached from the stencil, but some parasites decided to steal it anyway. It may not have been Banksy’s intention, but that kind of behaviour is definitely something which deserves focused remonstration by everyone.

The stencil a few hours after being painted, with bunting stolen

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