Banksy Pop Culture References

As told through a selection of works
October 24, 2023

Dumbo - Dumbo

"Dumbo" stands as one of Banksy's most elusive and coveted prints, seldom surfacing in auctions or the open market. This particular artwork was crafted as part of a limited edition comprising 25 prints, of which 10 were signed and 15 remained unsigned. These prints were exclusively distributed to a select group of collectors, and each piece was meticulously hand-finished with watercolours.

The inspiration for "Dumbo" can be traced back to a short film produced by Banksy titled "Rebel Attack Rocket," which emerged during his 2013 "Better Out Than In" residency in New York City. This film played a pivotal role in shaping the artwork's thematic elements. During this residency, Banksy embarked on an ambitious project to unveil a new artwork every day throughout the month of October. In keeping with the theme, "Rebel Attack Rocket" depicted a group of Syrian rebels launching a rocket into the sky, with its target remaining shrouded in mystery. As the narrative unfolds, it becomes evident that the rocket's unfortunate recipient is none other than Disney's beloved character, Dumbo.

In 2014, Banksy unveiled the print "Dumbo," which serves as a testament to the artist's penchant for subversive dark humour. In this artwork, viewers are confronted with an image featuring a gathering of unidentified (presumably) Jihadists surrounding the lifeless form of Walt Disney's iconic Dumbo. Banksy's signature stencil style brings these figures to life, creating a stark contrast with the vibrant and Disney-esque portrayal of the hapless pachyderm. "Dumbo" offers a compelling juxtaposition of two distinct cultures, the Middle East and the West, colliding through violence and a mutual desire for the annihilation of the other. The artwork exudes an aura of sinister, yet thought-provoking humour, drawing parallels with other works in Banksy's oeuvre, such as "Napalm" and "Christ With Shopping Bags," where the artist masterfully conveys profound meaning through the powerful tools of contrast and subversion.


Banksy Dumbo Print and meaning

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Grin Reaper - Acid House

In 2005, Banksy unveiled "Grin Reaper," a piece that remains part of a limited edition comprising 300 signed prints. This artwork showcases one of the artist's most instantly recognizable motifs, wherein the Grim Reaper takes centre stage, cleverly subverted through Banksy's trademark dry humour and wit.

In a striking visual juxtaposition, the Grim Reaper is depicted in a casual repose upon a clock face reminiscent of the iconic Big Ben. He firmly grasps his scythe, poised to reap the living and transport them to the realm of the departed. What distinguishes this hooded harbinger of death, however, is the absence of the usual skeletal visage or concealed countenance. Instead, the Reaper bears a bright yellow smiley face, an emblematic symbol widely recognized in Western society. This symbol carries connotations spanning from the realm of synthetic drugs to notions of positivity and optimism.

A palpable sense of suspense pervades the artwork as viewers contemplate the impending countdown, but to what purpose? As the clock's hands steadily and unwaveringly approach midnight, the Grin Reaper provocatively sits, simultaneously menacing and mocking. The juxtaposition of the radiant countenance of death against the stark black and white stencil creates a delicate dance between mortality and humour. Banksy's playful and subversive wit serves to confound and startle the observer. Could this artwork serve as Banksy's exploration of the concept of "Memento Mori," reminding us that death is an inevitable part of life and should serve as a catalyst for us to embrace life to the fullest?

Echoing the sentiments of Monty Python in their iconic song, "Always Look On The Bright Side Of Life," perhaps Banksy encourages us to remember that, even when life may seem bleak, there's something we may have overlooked: the power to laugh, smile, dance, and sing in the face of life's inherent impermanence.

Banksy Grin Reaper Print meaning

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Pulp Fiction- Pulp Fiction

Originating as a street piece in London's Old Street, "Pulp Fiction" subsequently made its official debut when Pictures on Walls released it in 2004. This release included a signed edition limited to 150 prints and an unsigned edition comprising 600 prints.

True to its name, "Pulp Fiction" draws its inspiration from Quentin Tarantino's iconic 1994 film of the same title. In this artwork, the two central characters, hitmen Vincent and Jules, stand side by side, their posture poised and ready for action. However, a whimsical twist awaits as they forego conventional firearms in favour of holding two vibrant and stylized bananas.

The term "pulp" itself harkens back to the days of inexpensive fiction magazines, which flourished from the 1890s until the late 1950s. These publications earned their name from the affordable wood pulp paper on which they were printed. In contrast, magazines produced on higher-quality paper were known as "glossies" or "slicks." "Pulp Fiction" serves as a playful commentary, not only referencing the film but also offering a reflection on the ephemeral and transient nature of street art. Banksy's characteristic subversive humour and penchant for unexpected twists are on full display with the substitution of guns for bananas, infusing the piece with a surreal and thought-provoking quality.. 


Banksy Pulp Fiction Print iMeaning

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Stop and Search - The Wizard of Oz

Banksy's artwork titled "Stop and Search" presents a compelling scene featuring the beloved childhood character Dorothy from "The Wizard of Oz" standing beside a police officer clad in riot gear, inspecting the contents of her wicker basket. As is characteristic of Banksy's style, the artwork skillfully juxtaposes contrasting elements, juxtaposing Dorothy's innocence with the stern and authoritative figure of the policeman. This limited edition print can be interpreted as a commentary on the contentious stop and search legislation that was introduced by the UK government in the 1980s, which has generated significant controversy due to allegations of disproportionate targeting of minority communities.

The artwork itself is rendered in a stark black and white palette, with a touch of colour introduced through the blue hue of the policeman's gloves. The clinical and surgical demeanour of the police officer instils a sense of fear in Dorothy, who appears visibly distressed as the search unfolds. In this portrayal, Dorothy stands as a powerless bystander, devoid of agency, faced with the overwhelming authority symbolised by the policeman. This depiction of vulnerability and helplessness evokes a potent commentary on the potential abuses of state power.

Children often serve as a recurring motif in Banksy's body of work, as seen in other pieces like "Girl With Balloon," "Napalm," and "Girl with TV." They are emblematic of innocence, youth, and childhood. In "Stop and Search," Dorothy's faithful companion, Toto, faithfully stands by her side, embodying loyalty and companionship in the midst of this unsettling and troubled scene.

Banksy Stop and Search Print Meaning


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Monkey Queen - Mod Culture

Monkey Queen, a notable artwork by Banksy, made its debut as part of a signed edition of 150 prints and an additional unsigned edition of 600. This distinctive piece was initially offered for sale during Banksy's influential Turf War exhibition, held at a warehouse situated on Kingsland Road in London's vibrant East End.

Adding to its allure, a street mural featuring the imagery of Monkey Queen was stencilled outside the London club known as the Chill Out Zone. However, this outdoor mural quickly garnered attention and was subsequently removed by the authorities. This removal coincided with Queen Elizabeth's golden jubilee, which celebrated the 50th anniversary of her coronation. The incident of the mural's removal serves as a testament to Banksy's art's ability to engage with and provoke the prevailing cultural and political landscape, thereby aligning itself with the mod counterculture movement that seeks to challenge norms and conventions.


Banksy Monkey Queen Print

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About the author

Alex Yellop