Paris has always been an art lover’s paradise thanks to impressionist treasures found at the Musée d’Orsay and, of course, The Louvre, the largest art museum in the world. But it’s also a fantastic place to delve into contemporary urban art, especially in neighbourhoods tucked away from tourists like Belleville, whose streets boast impressive graffiti art and exhibitions at every corner.
In recent days, this vibrant urban art scene has been thrown into the international spotlight after seven new murals spray-painted by world-famous elusive street artist, Banksy, were discovered on its walls. Despite the initial mystery surrounding the anonymity of these artworks, Banksy’s publicist, Jo Brooks, confirmed to The New York Times on Tuesday that the works were indeed his.
The seven new street murals that have popped up in Paris each have their own political message. They take aim at the French government, especially with reference to the current migrant situation. For example, the first mural was discovered near Porte de la Chappelle, a former centre for refugees, and on June 20, which also happened to be World Refugee Day.
The piece features the image of a child spray-painting wallpaper over a black swastika, using the same wallpaper stencil that featured in his popular Go Flock Yourself from 2009. The new artworks seem to criticise the negative feelings surrounding migration in France, symbolised here with the potent and emotionally charged symbol of a black swastika.
It wouldn’t be the first time Banksy has used his art to comment on the migrant situation. He painted a portrait of Apple co-founder Steve Jobs on a wall in the ‘Jungle’ camp for migrants in Calais in 2015. More recently, in 2017, Banksy opened his ‘Walled Off Hotel’ in the West Bank town of Bethlehem.
There’s also a new mural in the 19th district of Paris, offering a somewhat comical play on Jacques-Louis David’s iconic 1801 painting of Napoleon crossing the Alps on horseback. While the original painting shows Napoleon rearing his horse triumphantly, here, all sense of national glory is obscured as the figure is covered with a simple red shawl.
There’s also an artwork in the Sorbonne neighbourhood in Paris depicting a man offering a dog a bone, after having first sawn the animal’s leg off, offering a reflection on cruelty. Another one comments on greed by showing a rat whizzing through the air on a popped champagne cork.
What’s always been special about the work of this anonymous British street artist is how it arrives at key political moments, in the midst of challenge and crisis, urging people to take positive action. Interestingly, on the same day that the works were officially confirmed as his, Banksy posted a photo of a rat holding a box cutter on Instagram, with the caption: ‘Fifty years since the uprising in Paris 1968. The birthplace of modern stencil art.’
The stencil art of Banksy follows the example of the uprising in Paris in 1968, by exploring contemporary social issues with a view to inspiring change. In fact, one of his new murals in Paris shows a rat wearing a Minnie Mouse bow under ‘May 1968’ in the Sorbonne neighbourhood in Paris. This suggests a level of solidarity not only with migrants, but also with the 50th anniversary of this historic uprising that saw a series of student protests against capitalism and consumerism.