British street artist Banksy has created three paintings dedicated to the refugee crisis in Europe, an issue that he has addressed many times in his work. The three works at first glance appear to be traditional seascapes, with rolling waves crashing against the shore and the setting sun in the background.
But upon closer inspection, Banksy found the beaches littered with empty life jackets and lifebuoys, each representing a fugitive who lost his life trying to cross the Mediterranean to Europe. Donated by Banksy himself, the three paintings titled “View of the Mediterranean Sea 2017” will be part of Sotheby’s “From Rembrandt to Richter” evening sale on July 28.
The three paintings by Banksy are estimated to sell for approximately US$1 million and US$1.5 million. Banksy’s money art will go towards raising funds for a hospital in Bethlehem.
Prior to this auction, the three paintings were housed at Banksy’s Walled Off Hotel, a fully functioning hotel in the Palestinian city of Bethlehem, Jerusalem, opened in May 2017.
Proceeds from the sale of Bethlehem artworks will go back to the Bethlehem community to help build a new stroke emergency room and buy children’s rehabilitation equipment from the Bethlehem Arab Rehabilitation Society.
Alex Branczik, head of contemporary art at Sotheby, said in a statement that Banksy was distorting the three paintings with his witty reworks to create something that, posing as a 19th-century seascape, illuminates one of the pressing issues of the 21st. century.
“This triptych hangs in the galleries at Sotheby’s next to some of the world’s greatest landscape painters, including Bellotto, Van Goyen, and Turner. However, Banksy’s work stands out for its powerful political message,” Branczik added.
Refugees have been a recurring theme for Banksy, who has produced a number of works of art critical of the way France is handling its Calais refugee camp.
The stencil mural of Steve Jobs at the camp was a reference to the father of Apple’s founder, a Syrian immigrant. And the Les Misérables-inspired design across from the French embassy in London references the use of tear gas by the police to evacuate refugees from the camp.
Banksy has also done several refugee-themed artworks for his 2015 dystopian theme park Dismaland, including the “Dream Boat” sculpture raffled off to benefit the charity Help Refugees. Material from the decommissioned attraction was later used to build shelters at the Calais camp.
Most recently, Banksy made a splash at the 2019 Venice Biennale by painting a migrant child on city canals firing a pink flare to attract rescuers. Since their inception, the seascape paintings have hung over the fireplace of the Banksy Walled Off Hotel in the Palestinian West Bank city of Jerusalem, Bethlehem.
The fully functional hotel opened in May 2017 and boasts “the worst view of any hotel in the world” of Israel’s West Bank separation wall. As already mentioned, the proceeds will be returned to the society for the construction of a new stroke emergency department and the purchase of children’s rehabilitation equipment in the Bethlehem Arab Rehabilitation Society.