Banksy’s Monumental Reckoning: 'Forgive Us Our Trespassing'

Banksy’s Monumental Reckoning: 'Forgive Us Our Trespassing'

"Some people become cops because they want to make the world a better place. Some people become vandals because they want to make the world a better-looking place."
Banksy

T respassing is an act and word that underlies the very modus operandi of graffiti and street art, as street artists must trespass on private property in order to tag or paint a wall or surface. Towering at seven meters in height, Banksy’s monumental work Forgive Us Our Trespassing from 2011 is the largest known piece by the anonymous street artist, evincing a vision at once brazen and deeply poignant. The imagery itself is a potent and moving revelation of Banksy’s conflicted feelings about being a graffiti artist, speaking to deep preoccupations and pathos that underscore his artistic production. By asking for forgiveness, Banksy acknowledges the concerns of those who see his work as vandalism, but seems to convey that he ultimately means well, asking for understanding.

Banksy, Forgive Us Our Trepassing, 2010

While the widely recognizable image of the kneeling boy, accompanied by the title "Forgive Us Our Trespassing," first appeared in 2010, the featured work was created in 2011 with the participation of more than 100 students at the City of Angels School in a project aimed to encourage children to create art. Searing with raw immediacy and evincing rich layers of interpretations, Forgive Us Our Trespassing is a museum-caliber piece by the internationally acclaimed artist whose subversive practice has granted him a reputation of infamy as much as world renown.

Born and bred in Bristol, Banksy has achieved a now legendary status that teeters between acclaim and notoriety for his distinctive style of satirical street art and graffiti. His work is rich in dark humour and frequently captioned with subversive epigrams that provide pejorative commentaries on socio-political aspects of contemporary life. Seeking to disturb and disrupt the status quo through his interrogative and anti-establishmentarian practice, Banksy has epitomised his own mission with the adage: “Art should comfort the disturbed and disturb the comfortable.”

INSTALLATION VIEW OF THE PRESENT WORK AT ART IN THE STREETS, APRIL 2011- AUGUST 2011 AT THE GEFFEN CONTEMPORARY AT MOCA. COURTESY OF THE MUSEUM OF CONTEMPORARY ART. PHOTO BY BRIAN FORREST.

First appearing in 2010, the image in Forgive Us Our Trespassing sets aside Banksy’s usual biting satire and derision, revealing instead subtler, more nuanced sentiments. The iconic image of the praying boy kneeling beside a can of paint and a brush first appeared on a wall in Salt Lake City, Utah. In 2010, the image was distributed in the form of posters; this time, a halo adorns the boy’s head. The posters were used to promote the artist’s fake documentary film "Exit Through the Gift Shop," which challenges the core of visual culture by questioning notions of authenticity and originality in a postmodernist society. In March 2010, when the image was featured on a London Bridge Station poster, Transport for London censored the halo dripping with paint for fear that the image would incite other graffiti artists; within days, however, the halo reappeared, tagged by an unidentified artist.

In the present version of the image, the boy dons a hoodie, and the halo is replaced by a dazzling, gloriously graffitied stained-glass window. The setting of a sacred church functions on the one hand to heighten the ambiguous sentiments of contrition and repentance; on the other hand, the sacrilegious blasphemy of defacing the hallowed windows of a church paints an incredibly powerful statement that epitomizes Banksy’s cheeky, anarchic irreverence and rebellious spirit. A smaller version is on display at the Moco Museum Amsterdam, whereas the present work, towering at seven metres high and incorporating the graffiti work of Los Angeles students, is the only larger-than-life work that incorporates literally the very essence of street art – its continuous process of mutual comments, reinterpretations, and reworkings, with the latest contributor holding the greatest control over meaning.

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