Art | Graffiti | Travel

Sneak Peek - Banksy in Barcelona

Spain — Last Art Exhibit Before the Shutdowns

Jessica Bolaños Vanegas

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While walking spontaneously through the streets of Barcelona, the capital city on the coast of northeastern Spain, my partner and I of Goodspero, two multi-media creatives from Houston, Texas, US in town to film alongside Geoffrey Moskowitz of Fat Cat Productions, and his clients, Sean Kinney and Catherine Sbeglia of RCRWireless News at the MWC (Mobile World Congress), the world’s largest tech conference/exhibition for the mobile industry (which was cancelled a few days before we arrived due to fears of the coronavirus)— we happened to stumble upon The World of Banksy in Espacio Trafalgar.

“The World of Banksy” Exhibition in Barcelona, Spain — replica of artwork in “The Walled Off Hotel” pictured here in 360°. // Photo by: Jessica Bolaños Vanegas, Goodspero.

Between filming, editing, social media, writing and otherwise catching up on our work during down-time now that the conference was cancelled, and while walking back to our host’s apartment in the Gothic Quarter (Barri Gòtic), to grab our laptops and head to the nearest cafe, we caught a glimpse of a sign named after one of our favorite street artists, also a political activist and film director. While crossing the street we decided to take a quick detour and slip into the building through the open glass door — plus I spotted a restroom sign inside and desperately needed to use the bathroom.

Upon walking in I assumed the building was some sort of lobby, perhaps for living quarters, or one of the many private corridors with street art adorning the walls. We never imagined that we had just walked into a press/media day preview for the newest Banksy themed art exhibition featuring 100+ works inspired by the artist that was set to open the next day (February 25, 2020).

“The World of Banksy” Exhibition in Barcelona. Jessica Bolaños Vanegas taking part in replica of “Throw up Flowers”. // Photo by: Nelson Vanegas, Goodspero.

I completely ignored the fact that I had to relieve myself as we found ourselves immersed in Banksy art the moment we walked in. I thought, “what an AMAZING public art display”, oblivious to the fact that we had inadvertently snuck into a private and closed building (never mind the keys hanging on the front door which I paid no mind to regardless of my partner’s questioning whether or not we should be in there). I was already far too captivated by all the art.

While taking in all the familiar pieces in the first room, including text printed on the wall in multiple languages that quoted the artist:

“I still encourage anyone to copy, borrow, steal, and amend my art for amusement, academic research, or activism…”

“The World of Banksy” Exhibition in Barcelona, Spain. Replica of “Girl with Balloon”. // Photo by: Jessica Bolaños Vanegas, Goodspero.

I snapped photos of a replica of one of my favorite stencil pieces, “Girl with Balloon”, first spotted in London and has since been used by the anonymous artist to support various social campaigns including the Syrian refugee crisis and the Israeli West Bank Barrier.

*screenshot photo by ArtFido/YouTube.

It was also the piece infamously destroyed by Banksy who had a shredder hidden in a frame that was set off immediately after the piece was sold during a live auction of his work. The anonymous European woman who bought the piece for £1,042,000 ($1,346,652 USD) before it self-destructed, ended up keeping the artwork and was quoted saying she now owned her “own piece of art history”.

“The World of Banksy” Exhibition in Barcelona, Spain. // Photo by: Jessica Bolaños Vanegas, Goodspero.

Opposite that wall, another stencil of a little girl sitting on the ground holding a red balloon which also formed part of the word ‘no’ in text above that read, “NO FUTURE”.

“The World of Banksy” Exhibition in Barcelona, Spain. Replica of “Kissing Coppers” (left) // Photo by: Jessica Bolaños Vanegas, Goodspero.

Down the hall, multiple “Kissing Coppers”, depict two male British police officers kissing, another favorite stencil graffiti art piece of ours originally spotted on a bar in Brighton, England, known to many as the LGBTQ Capital of the UK. The original piece was vandalized multiple times thanks to the country’s attitudes towards homosexuality at the time and the piece was eventually and controversially removed and sold by the bar owner who put up a replica in it’s place a little over a decade ago. As an entrepreneur, I supposed I can appreciate that he reportedly used the approximate half a million dollars in profits to continue sustaining his business.

“The World of Banksy” Exhibition in Barcelona, Spain. Replica of “Mobile Lovers” // Photo by: Jessica Bolaños Vanegas, Goodspero.

Before moving on to the second floor, my partner and I snapped a photo imitating “Mobile Lovers”, one of the featured stencil pieces on a wall blocked off by a chain and a couple of steps below the first floor at the far end of the room. It’s of a couple embracing with their faces lit up by the lighting coming from their cell phones which they’re holding behind each other’s backs. A perfect depiction of us in our worlds. Some may look at this piece and think it’s sad — to me, it’s beautiful. Not many would understand or feel the same way but I see my partner and I in our natural state. Our video and social media business and the freedom we have to work from Barcelona and to work with each other daily wouldn’t be possible without our mobile phones — nor would we be here, enjoying this exhibition thanks to MWC 2020. Just another unpopular opinion perhaps.

Upstairs in the next exhibition room there are several moving pieces that I’m left too drained to describe. The political nature and social narratives in each piece on display remind me of all the reasons I left the 9–5 world and began a creative career with the goal of shining a light on the many messages and injustices often left unspoken. A world in which I’m now able to create, write about and share visual art in many forms that educates and inspires others to take action in order to leave a social impact on our world.

“The World of Banksy” Exhibition in Barcelona, Spain. Replica of “Toxic Mary” // Photo by: Jessica Bolaños Vanegas, Goodspero.

I haven’t yet reached the level of focusing on controversial works like the “Toxic Mary” pieces of the exhibition, in which the Virgin Mary is feeding baby Jesus a bottle of poison. Nevertheless, these pieces are dear to me for reasons other than what it was perhaps originally intended to portray — the toxic nature of religion. To me, as a child-free by choice woman, living in a world that encourages even young girls to pop out babies left and right “because you’ll never know what love is until then”, I am drawn to visuals and texts that are even remotely anti-baby or anti-motherhood. I am 100% pro-otherhood. Anti-religion aside — I must stop here and thank the curator for including these works in the exhibition.

And even non-Banksy fans can surely appreciate, “Christ with Shopping Bags”. Because really — what better way is there to celebrate Christmas in our typical consumerist societies than to shop excessively in the name of Jesus and “love” and making children, family and friends “happy” — and for many — getting into even more debt, or staying in debt, until the next holiday.

“The World of Banksy” Exhibition in Barcelona, Spain. “Christ with Shopping Bags” // Photo by: Jessica Bolaños Vanegas, Goodspero.

By the time you make it downstairs and into the most immersive parts of this exhibition, you have only been given a taste of Banky’s art through stencils, a few physical incorporations of flowers, grass, paper and magazine photos protruding from some of the pieces among other items. There are even a few auditory police sirens encased in crates and other surprises I’ll leave up to your multi-sensory experiencing pleasure once you actually visit this detailed exhibition.

Be sure not to miss the elaborate displays downstairs at the bottom of the building — we almost did. Were it not for spontaneously running into the gracious exhibition’s curator, Haziz Vardar, we would have completely missed it. Not only did Haziz not immediately kick us out of the private and mind you, closed, press viewing once realizing we hadn’t been invited by Rosa(?), but he and his partner happily shared Banksy stories with us about having started the exhibition in Paris last month in January and how the one we were standing in was set to open to the public in the morning. Not a friend of Banksy, but immediately a friend of ours, Haziz welcomed our intrusion and invited us to continue walking around, encouraging us to take pictures, post them to Instagram, and to go downstairs and let the staff know we were “friends of Haziz” so they’d give us a little gift bag with perhaps a book or surprise inside. We were not disappointed and left with a canvas bag with the “Kids on Guns Hill” print, a matching magnet and a book from the exhibition (pictured at the end of this article below).

“The World of Banksy” Exhibition in Barcelona, Spain. “The Walled Off Hotel” // Photo by: Jessica Bolaños Vanegas, Goodspero.

We would never have imagined some of the best pieces were yet to be seen in an entire floor underground. There’s a replica of a room in “The Walled Off Hotel” downstairs featuring a painting of an Israeli border policeman and a Palestinian in a pillow fight above an actual bed, identical to the one Banksy created in one of nine rooms in one of his largest artworks — a Palestinian boutique hotel in Bethlehem boasting “the worst view in the world”. It’s a hotel in front of a concrete wall built by Israel that encages Bethlehem. Although it was meant to be a temporary hotel/artwork, it has become one of the town’s top tourist attractions, blatantly educating its visitors of the daily life and confinement of Palestinians facing Israel’s military infrastructure.

“The World of Banksy” gift shop goodies in Barcelona, Spain courtesy of our new friend and curator, Haziz Vardar. // Photo by: Jessica Bolaños Vanegas, Goodspero.

Please friends (and strangers alike) — especially those left stranded in Barcelona without as much work as originally planned thanks to the wonderful coronavirus fears, you MUST stop by this exhibition. Grab a book as you “Exit Through the Gift Shop” on your way out. As the BNKSY & Artwork’s book states, the entire experience is “100% unauthorized by Banksy” — much like our approptiate and literal “sneak peek” of this exhibition in the beautiful Barcelona. Vale.

*Please tweet me: @FancyCapitalist or send me a direct message on Instagram: @FancyCapitalist for re-publishing requests.

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Jessica Bolaños Vanegas

Digital + Video + Social Impact. Storyteller. Documenting history as it unfolds. Co-Founder @Goodspero. TEDx-er. Former Contributing Writer @HuffPost. She/Her ❤