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Dismaland: Is it a civic imagination project?

British street artist Banksy is known for his graffiti masterpieces, often done in public spaces, that critique authoritarianism through subversions of images in popular culture. He refuses interviews and has maintained anonymity.

I went to The Art of Banksy, an unauthorized exhibit, in August that displayed "the world's largest collection" of authentic Banksy pieces. The irony, of course, is that the 80-plus privately owned original works were now being showcased in a ticketed "immersive art exhibition." There was even a gift shop rife with The Art of Banksy branded tote bags, tee shirts, coffee mugs, stickers! (He'd likely disagree with the entire concept.)

There I was compelled with the prints of Banksy's 2015 creation "Dismaland," a dystopian "bemusement" anti-theme park situated in Weston Super Mare's The Tropicana, formerly Europe's largest outdoor swimming pool. The apocalyptic scene was characteristic of the underground painter and filmmaker, a satirical take on Disneyland. It featured work from 60 artists. But, can Dismaland be called a civic imagination project?

(Image from tori's iPhone on Sunday, Aug. 21, 2022. Gallery Place, Washington, D.C.)

Banksy himself said "Dismaland" is "a theme park whose big theme is — theme parks should have bigger themes," according to reporting from the time. Many hail him an activist. Some people label his work as anarchist.

I see a chronic exposure of plain realities: selfie holes, a person being attacked by seagulls, "a trampoline and a stand offering small loans with interest rates of several thousand percent." Banksy offers a clear retelling of consumerist conundrums. The bold works analyze what people look are looking to escape when venture into places of so-called traditional entertainment. His art "pushes us to envision a whole other way of being, and to begin to live that way of being," said Naomi Woodspring, a Bristol academic who attended the temporary installment. It's all critique.

What if, not every notion of the "civic imagination" is centered around democracy? This one seems to focus on the destruction of capitalistic delusions, the raw differences between (hopeful) systemic change and hyper commercialized societies that slip through its cracks.

Dismaland reached audiences from across different continents long after it closed. The idea was to question the typical notions of a place where people go to play much and think not, like an amusement park. This alternative — an expression of one space in the world and how human beings interact among themselves within it — does not require dismantling. Rather, Banksy challenges folks to cast new designs and create new images of a well-loved place around which, from their own perspectives, solutions-oriented narratives to current states of civil (un)rest can exist in public.

He is totally a surrealist.

"I asked myself: What do people like most about going to look at art?" Bansky said, of his social experiment. "The coffee. So I made an art show that has a cafe, a cocktail bar, a restaurant and another bar. And some art."

Check out more of his stuff here.

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