The pop-up exhibition Dismaland, located in the seaside town of Weston-super-Mare, England, ends this coming Sunday. Dismaland markets itself as a “bemusement park” and the creator of the project, British street artist Banksy, has described it as a “family theme park unsuitable for children.” The project is set up as a parody of amusement parks, and Banksy has commented, “I guess you’d say it’s a theme park whose big theme is ‘theme parks should have bigger themes.’” However, asking for bigger themes and delivering bigger themes are not the same thing, and Banksy, in creating an exhibition that asks only for the former, once again falls flat with his latest work. The park does not offer anything useful to its visitors and the space is filled with art consistent with Banksy’s usual, tired aesthetic — cheap satire riddled with vague, and ultimately useless, commentary.
The park is filled with sculptures and murals that at best are merely clever and at worst are uninteresting and lazy. One sculpture features a killer whale jumping from a toilet, through a hula hoop held by a diver, into a kiddie pool. Unfortunately this sort of work represents Dismaland at its mediocre best. The sculpture is a somewhat clever portrait of the abuse that orcas, and captive animals in general, are forced to undergo at the hands of humans. Though even then the piece is a only reference to the 2013 documentary “Blackfish,” which uncovered the abusive practices of SeaWorld rather than being some unique point of view. The sculpture is just another example of Banksy pandering to his audience. There is nothing original or noteworthy in declaring that animal cruelty is bad. Any reasonable person already agrees with that. And surely anyone who drives three hours from London to see an art exhibit doesn’t need to be beaten over the head with such an obvious morality.
The aforementioned sculpture, along with one of a boat of refugees with a body floating in the water and a sign reading, “Free hot dog for anyone who can guess what animal is in their hot dog,” all amount to little more than intellectual masturbation. On one hand it is encouraging to see so many people participate and take an interest in art. Oth the other, there is something deeply unsettling that Dismaland and Banksy’s popularity in general resides in telling their audience things they already know, but feel they need to reiterate for a misplaced sense of moral superiority. Banksy’s work doesn’t help animals who have been abused or do anything for displaced refugees. His art points to those problems and merely announces, “I am upset by these things also.” Of course it is important to be indignant about these issues as that is the only way to change them. But a millionaire artist like Banksy can do better than just point and complain.
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Adnan Zarif is studying away at NYU London this semester. Email him at [email protected].