Sunday 24th January 2016 revealed Banksy’s new piece of work opposite the French Embassy in Knightsbridge, London. The artwork utilises the iconic image of Cosette, from Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables, crying as a result of teargas. His newest artwork is evidently critiquing the French authorities and their use of teargas in the ‘Jungle’ refugee camp in Calais earlier this month.
For the first time, the mysterious Banksy has made his artwork interactive by attaching a QR code to the mural. A scan of this QR code opens a Youtube video from 5 January 2016 when French police raided the ‘Jungle’ refugee camp in Calais. Shockingly, teargas, rubber bullets and concussion grenades are used as a mechanism for control by French police. The combination is a potential direct comment from Banksy to attack French officials, and arguably Europe, on their treatment of the Refugee Crisis. The elusive Banksy, however, left no comment with the artwork, leaving it to our own interpretations.
“Banksy is showing the irony of this honourable flag, as French authorities have caused recent devastation with their use of teargas”
Dr. Paul Smith of the French and Francophone department at University of Nottingham believes there are “many layers” to this piece of art. Firstly, Cosette can represent ‘the victim’: she stands as a young girl without defence, abused and forgotten. Banksy shows that not only are adult refugees affected by this treatment, but also children, reminding ourselves of the important photo of the refugee boy on the beach.
Dr. Smith also refers to another interpretation; after the attacks of November 13, Cosette can also represent a victimised Paris, and therefore France, in the country’s current state of emergency. In light of this, Dr. Smith states: “Banksy is almost nodding to the ‘Facebookisation’ of the triocolore flag,” where Cosette, like a portion of Facebook accounts, has become “bleu, blanc, rouge” as an act of solidarity after these attacks. Mirroring these profile photos, Cosette shows the importance of the French flag that the world was made aware of: “liberté, égalité, fraternité”, which I believe now needs to be applied to the refugees in Calais and in Europe.
“Although it has been covered up, Banksy’s message is preserved in the public mind”
By placing this artwork in a French-enriched part of London, opposite the French Embassy as well as the surrounding French cafés and bookstores, Banksy is showing the irony of this honourable flag, as French authorities have caused recent devastation with their use of teargas. However, this enriched location also gains much tourism and opinions, allowing Banksy to spread his message of ‘les misérables’ in the refugee crisis.
BBC news reported on Monday 25 January 2016 that this artwork has now been covered up. Banksy’s art is often defaced by rival artists, manipulated, or stolen for money. As the special graffiti had already been attempted to be taken, building developers boarded up the artwork. Although it has been covered up, Banksy’s message is preserved in the public mind, proving art can truly stop and make people think.
Interview with Dr. Paul Smith conducted on 26/1/2016