Santa’s Ghetto: Banksy and Friends Bring Street Art to Bethlehem

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Filed under: Art Pranks, Culture Jamming and Reality Hacking, Pranksters

Let us spray: Banksy hits Bethlehem
by Sheera Claire Frenkel
The Times
December 3, 2007

Banksy SoldierWith Christmas around the corner and tourists staying away, Bethlehem has turned to an unlikely source to help to revive its suffering economy: graffiti.

The “guerrilla artist” Banksy has helped to transform the security barrier that surrounds the town with more than a dozen satirical images painted, plastered and sprayed on to the 8m-high (26ft) concrete. The work winds a trail to the heart of the city at Manger Square, where more than a dozen pieces are housed directly across from the Church of the Nativity.

Banksy’s work, in his trademark stencil style, takes ironic jabs at life in the West Bank. In one, a young girl in a pink dress searches a soldier for weapons. In another a dove carrying an olive branch is outfitted with a bullet-proof vest while a sniper aims at the bird’s chest.

Banksy Dove

The seasonal exhibition, entitled Santa’s Ghetto, began life six years ago as an “anarchic concept gallery” above an East End pub, and has become a London institution. By taking the idea to the West Bank, the artist hoped to shine a light on the plight of Bethlehem. Less than three weeks before Christmas, its shops remain boarded up. Since construction of the security barrier began in 2002 tourism has plummeted. Officials estimate that more than half of the city’s population does not have a job.

“You wouldn’t worry about Christmas becoming too commercial in Bethlehem – they couldn’t afford it. There’s more festive lights in the window of your local Woolworths than you’ll find in this entire town,” Banksy, who hides his real identity, told The Times via a text message.

More than 70 per cent of the work-force in the city depended on the 100,000 tourists that used to stream into it during the holidays. Last year fewer than 12,000 crossed through the checkpoint at the security barrier to visit the city, Palestinian tourism officials said.

Banksy said: “It would do good if more people came to see the situation here for themselves. If it is safe enough for a bunch of sissy artists then it’s safe enough for anyone.”

Tony Blair, the international envoy to the Middle East, has said that restoring tourism in Bethlehem would be a cornerstone of his efforts to revive the Palestinian economy.

Iman Hamamin, a 27-year-old Bethlehem resident, awoke yesterday to find two donkeys, by an Italian artist known as Eric the Dog, painted on to his wall. “We like this artwork very much,” he said. “For some it is a time of cheer, but for us it is a reminder of how bad the economy has become.”

It is not the first time that Banksy has made his mark in the region. In August 2005 he stenciled nine images of life outside the conflict on to the security barrier.

Artists worked late into the night preparing Santa’s Ghetto for the opening today. The exhibition includes work by the Palestinian artist Suleiman Mansour, Peter Blake, Sam 3, Blu, Swoon, Ron English, James Cauty and Abdel al-Hussein.
Erica il Cane and Sam3

Mansour recreated one of his most famous pieces for the show after it was destroyed in the American bombing of Tripoli in 1986. Colonel Gaddafi, the Libyan leader, bought the original 1973 painting that depicts a Palestinian man carrying the city of Jerusalem.

“The walls here are bigger than we expected. But it is the best street art place ever. The wall space is amazing and intense. It is the type of place artists should be,” the Faile, a North American artist duo, said.

The pieces in Santa’s Ghetto can be bought at the site only. Reprints and signed posters by Banksy can be bought at www.santasghetto.com.

A life in the shadows

  • The artist, 33, started out as a graffiti sprayer in the 1980s in Bristol
  • Only one journalist has interviewed him. Some say his real name is Robert Banks
  • His pranks include gluing his work to the walls of Tate Modern and the Metropolitan Museum in New York
  • His manifesto is a transcription of a soldier’s account of how a shipment of lipstick gave Belsen’s women inmates their humanity back after the camp was liberated in 1945
  • Related links:

  • Banksy’s Out
  • From One Wall to Another
  • Banksy – Artsy or Fartsy?
  • To tag or not to tag, that is the question
  • Banksy was where?
  • Banksy on the West Bank