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Brooklyn Street Art

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Banksy Goes Into The Hospitality Business in Palestine

Posted on April 11, 2017

Hotel, museum, funhouse? Political/social satire, self-advertisement, genius? All of it and more. Street Artist and showman Banksy’s team of advisors, marketers, fabricators, and assistants have already mounted a vast museum show, a theme park, a treasure hunt across New York, among other events. When it comes to creating spectacle and courting controversy, Banksy and company know how to get attention and this spring it’s happening again in fabulous Bethlehem with a hotel in which you can actually book a room – and learn Banksy’s political opinions.

Giulia Blocal took a trip there to take in the local color and to enjoy the Walled Off Hotel and she shares her observations here with BSA readers.

Banksy. The Walled Off Hotel. Bethlehem, Palestine. March 2017. (photo © Giulia Blocal)


by Giulia Blocal

After having released a video ironically describing Gaza as an attractive tourist destination in 2015, Banksy is back in the Palestinian Territories with a project that levers on the same key but pushes it further. This time his invitation to visit Palestine isn’t a provocation, but a fact. And in order to be taken seriously, he opened an actual hotel in Bethlehem, which overlooks the infamous wall that divides Israel from Palestine.

A few days ago, I accepted the above-mentioned invitation and went to Bethlehem. I was eager to see with my own eyes what had already become one of the most controversial projects of the year – as it always happens when it comes to Banksy. While some people still haven’t forgiven him for dropping out of the streets, others are arguing that, with The Walled Off Hotel, he is speculating on Palestinian suffering.

When I got off the bus, several taxi-drivers-improvised-guides came to me, eager to help. Banksy-related tourism was already a thing in Bethlehem, where the artist had painted several murals (along with many other street artists who had left their sign on the wall, among whom the Italian BLU and the German twins How & Nosm) and, after the opening of The Walled Off Hotel, the situation was denounced by graffiti-purists as intolerable.

Banksy. The Walled Off Hotel. Bethlehem, Palestine. March 2017. (photo © Giulia Blocal)

Much to their dismay, the declared goal of the project is exactly that: to bring tourists to the Palestinian Territories, therefore helping the area both economically and through addressing the inevitable media interest to the problems arising from the conflict.

However, The Walled Off Hotel is just what it claims to be: a hotel. Eight fully equipped rooms customized by Banksy and fellow artists Sami Musa and Dominique Petrin, some budget barracks for lower income travelers, a gallery showcasing artworks by contemporary Palestinian artists, a museum that looks at the wall from different angles, and a Piano Bar area where non-residents can have a ‘mocktail’, a salad or the very English afternoon tea.

Inspired by the Colonial style (in reference to the 100th anniversary of Mandatory Palestine), at a first glance the Piano Bar reminded me of a sophisticated English tea room, but after my gaze had wandered around a bit I’ve begun spotting all the quirky, twisted, Banksy-style artworks.

Banksy. Clay sculptures by Iyad Sabbah. The Walled Off Hotel. Bethlehem, Palestine. March 2017. (photo © Giulia Blocal)

CCTV cameras, which compose the sophisticated Israeli security system, are hung on the wall as if they were mounted deer heads, right above a single row of harmless slingshots, which represent the Palestinian resistance.

The bust of a rebel, who unquestionably looks like Michelangelo’s David, is in a cloud of tear gas, skewing the representation of heroes in classical art.

Vandalized oil paintings, two goldfish flirting from different bowls, cupids flying seraphically, although wearing oxygen masks… all artworks are imbued with brazen social commentary, each one highlighting a different aspect of the conflict between Israel and Palestine.

Banksy. The Walled Off Hotel. Bethlehem, Palestine. March 2017. (photo © Giulia Blocal)

Next to the pieces specifically created for the hotel, Banksy reinterpreted some of his most politically subversive works of art, such as the kids swing-riding around an army watchtower (painted in Gaza in 2015) and the iconic rebel throwing the bunch of flowers, which here are actual flowers put in a vase.

After having a “Earl Grey & Tonic”, which was so good to make it up for the absence of alcohol, I was off to the Art Gallery, which is curated by the art historian Ismal Duddera, who selected different artworks from Palestinian artists and relied on Anisa Ashkar for the inauguration of the temporary exhibition. The gallery space has been totally underrated by the media, but trust me: it’s worth a visit.

I came back downstairs and headed to the museum, which aims at retracing the evolution of the occupation, from the British imperialism (represented by a wax statue of Balfour while signing the declaration, recalling that “it all began 100 years ago with an Englishman and the stroke of a pen”) to the apartheid wall, the one we can see just by peeking through the window.

Banksy. The Walled Off Hotel. Bethlehem, Palestine. March 2017. (photo © Giulia Blocal)

The museum displays different items, from ‘Visit Palestine’ and ‘Boycott Israel’ posters to the camera that saved the life of the cameraman Emad Burnat (author of the award-winning film ‘Five Broken Cameras’) by stopping a bullet fired by a soldier during the protests in the Bil’in village in 2005.

There are two clay sculptures by Iyad Sabbah, from the extremely moving public artwork that originally stood in Gaza, and ‘the scale of justice’, a sculpture by Banksy himself twisting a well-known Biblical adage into a more fitting “an eye for an eye, a tooth for a thousand teeth”.

Banksy. The Walled Off Hotel. Bethlehem, Palestine. March 2017. (photo © Giulia Blocal)

There is also a shop selling spray cans to leave your sign on the wall, although it is specified that not only it’s illegal, but also disliked by those locals who are against the ‘beautification’ of the wall.

Banksy’s sarcasm goes beyond the installations and the paintings inside the hotel and, as it often happens with his art, the whole is more than the sum of its parts. The way he manages to convey media attention is itself part of the artwork and, this time, his highly provocative invitation to Israelis to visit the hotel fits for the purpose. Some people criticized the biased nature of the project as Banksy leaves no doubts where he stands but, as he spray painted on the walls of Gaza back in 2015, “if we wash our hands of the conflict between the powerful and the powerless we side with the powerful –we don’t stay neutral”.

Banksy. The Walled Off Hotel. Bethlehem, Palestine. March 2017. (photo © Giulia Blocal)

Banksy. The Walled Off Hotel. Bethlehem, Palestine. March 2017. (photo © Giulia Blocal)

Banksy. The Walled Off Hotel. Bethlehem, Palestine. March 2017. (photo © Giulia Blocal)


Our sincere thanks to Giulia for sharing her experience and photos with us. Read more of Giulia Blocal’s growing list of travelogues on her Travel & Street Art Blog called BLOCAL. (www.blocal-travel.com)


 

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