Whenever major art exhibits come to the city, oftentimes the Bronx is not going to be a stop on the tour so it was to many Bronxites’ surprise when a Banksy appeared overnight in Melrose.
Well over a thousand fans flocked to our neighborhood to photograph the latest Banksy and take selfies with it.
They came from as far as Westchester or Brooklyn, the way the faithful flock to Our Lady of Lourdes in France.
Yesterday I expressed that I wasn’t quite sure how I felt for the piece and its tag of “Ghetto 4 Life”. I still think that of all words to use in his Bronx stop, ghetto may not have been the best choice but then again it’s Banksy and he does like to stir the pot.
Jeffrey Guard, founder and creative director of The Bronx Art Exchange had this to say on his website, “What Banksy, who is presumed to be both white and English, may not have realized is that in American culture, a white person using the word, “ghetto” can be perceived as racially charged, in that it suggests a not-so-subtle perjorative towards people of color meant to implicitly infer low-class, uneducated and criminal in nature. It’s analagous to people of color using the word “gentrify” as a racially charged perjoartive to subtley infer that white people are greedy, untrustworthy and lack a social conscience.”
Then you have my friend Karah Shaffer who was quoted in the Daily News saying, “It’s lazy and it’s ridiculous. Having a kid with spray paint and his butler writing ‘Ghetto 4 Life’ in the South Bronx is an easy way to perpetuate the way people think about the South Bronx…It’s disrespectful. Nobody comes here to be ‘ghetto,’”
But I’m not here to talk about the piece itself but more importantly the throngs who ran up to our home borough of the Bronx.
To many residents, they could not escape the dichotomy of thinking how cool it is that a world renowned artist left his mark in Melrose and the heart of the South Bronx and at the same time feel quite insulted that with decades of major street art, murals and our own homegrown and world-renowned graf artists it took an outsider to bring folks in.
Coming into the global ground zero of street art, graffiti, hip hop and urban culture to gape and awe at an outsider’s work makes me scratch my head and ask of them, “Where have you been? Why don’t you support your fellow urban brothers and sisters from the Bronx with such avidity.”
Perhaps that was Banksy’s intent, to poke fun of the folks who would otherwise never step into the neighborhood, and cast a light on cultural appropriation? To bring the sheep in to the most maligned borough and show the world it’s ok?
I live in a predominantly latino and African-American neighborhood so to see white people coming in by the hundreds throughout the day you can’t help but make that obvious observation.
Several individuals took offense that I saw it to be quite comical but they missed the entire point of my statement. I, in no way, shape or form am saying that a group of people shouldn’t come to the ‘hood to experience art, I am simply asking said group to think long and hard of why they never came before. Lynn Roberts, on Facebook, summed it up perfectly when a reader, who is white, found my comments disturbing. The reader couldn’t look beyond that I said ‘white’. Roberts went on to say:
“…the overwhelming majority of the white people who are flooding the hood just to see Banksy’s work would not venture there otherwise. I also doubt they are spending their money in local businesses while there. Your individual actions simply do not compensate for the hundreds of others who are otherwise disinterested in visiting “the hood.”…If you want art to be for all, then whose art are you talking about? Banksy gets paid big bucks for his knock-off “art” while the original artists in the hood have had to scratch to make a dollar and/or risk arrest.”
So if Banksy did something big in the South Bronx, it’s that he opened up an important dialogue between the locals and the outsiders. Many, myself included, challenged a number of the visitors to come back for some truly local artwork and see what we’ve been doing for decades before Banksy was a household name.
A number were eager to see more. Almost every single one had never been to the Bronx other than maybe Yankee Stadium or simply just driving through.
A few admitted that they were scared of coming up here having been brainwashed by the media and were pleasantly surprised to see that the Bronx was not this monster waiting to chew them up and spit them out.
Whether we like Banksy or his piece in Melrose doesn’t change the fact that it was an historic event