Banksy in Port Talbot, Wales

Description

I have no design statement here, but only wanted to archive and document some images and stories that reflect toxic subjects and late industrialism in events that occurred in the midst of our project here.  In December 2018 The Guardian ran a series of articles and accompanying photographs covering the creation and aftereffects of a Banksy artwork in the town of Port Talbot, in Wales, where there is a Tata-owned steelworks.  The artwork is described in one of the articles as "bittersweet," a term that could be applied (or misapplied, as you prefer) to many of Banksy's pieces, and at the very least points to the doubled, ambiguous, and/or contradictory qualities his work embodies.

The images here need to be viewed and read in light of a much longer and quite complex history that Banksy's artwork here, in its own indirect way, signals.  Briefly: a few years earlier, Port Talbot residents and workers organized to keep the steelworks open after Tata threatened to close it, putting 4,000 out of work.  This provoked a "national crisis" in 2016 (these and other steelworks had once been British Steel but were later privatized, with India-based Tata the most recent owner), resolved in part through workers accepting pension cuts. (See https://www.theguardian.com/business/2017/feb/15/tata-steel-workers-agree-to-pension-cuts-to-save-8000-jobs)  These events became the subject of a 2017 National Theatre Wales production called "We're Still Here," a play based on research and extensive interviews with Port Talbot workers and in which a number of community members performed. (See https://www.theguardian.com/stage/2017/sep/15/story-of-our-fight-port-talbot-locals-play-steelworks-were-still-here)  In early 2018, Port Talbot was named the UK's "most polluted city" by the World Health Organization; WHO soon apologized and retracted this claim, saying "the particulate pollution figure of 18 micrograms [of PM2.5] per cubic metre of air for Port Talbot should have read 9.6."  (See https://www.npt.gov.uk/1410?pr_id=5911)

In short: what Banksy seems to be "figuring out" here is the double bind of (late) industrial livelihood, in which communities work for, and work to keep and even welcome, the conditions of their own poisoning, hidden behind their backs, around the corner.

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Banksy Port Talbot

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This photo comes from Banksy's website.  His Instagram posting makes it clear that you are meant to start reading or viewing from this angle; the post is accompanied by a sweet tinkling Christmas song "Little Snowflake" (https://www.instagram.com/p/BrkqwhnlNjR/).  The Instagram video then takes the viewer around the corner of the garage to show that the "snowflakes" are coming from a burning chimney or bin (see the next image in this slideshow) ...

Banksy Port Talbot

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...the other side of the image, around the corner.  This is also from Banksy's website.  

Banksy Port Talbot

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The full angled/cornered image, also from Banksy's website.  His Instagram video from here pulls up and out above the garage's rooftop to show the steelworks in the not-too-distant background.

Banksy Port Talbot

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"Ian Lewis, 55, a steelworker, was surprised to discover Banksy had been at work on his garage wall. “I’m a bit overwhelmed at the moment, to be honest. Fans of Banksy have come along to see it,” he said.

The Aberavon councillor, Nigel Thomas Hunt, said: “We’re buzzing down here. The placing of the work is very clever. You can look at the painting and see the furnaces in the background. We’re delighted. I’ve written to the council already and we need to secure this really quickly.”" https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2018/dec/19/banksy-port-talbot-mural-south-wales

Banksy Port Talbot

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"The local council has stationed members of staff on nearby roads to help manage traffic, as the mural has attracted thousands of visitors, according to Anthony Taylor, a local councillor.

“There are always 40 to 50 around it,” he said. “People are there at all times of day. We are delighted to have the attraction but we have asked for there to be a little bit of respect. We are trying to get to grips with it, and in the new year we will try to organise things a bit better.”"

https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2018/dec/23/banksy-artwork-in-port-talbot-targeted-by-suspected-attacker

The Welsh actor Michael Sheen (a native of Port Talbot) is now paying for a security guard.

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Banksy Port Talbot

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Created date

December 23, 2018