In a rare interview with London’s Metro the elusive street artist Banksy has let the drawbridge down and gone public. We reported yesterday that The Oscar-winning Director Danny Boyle has joined with the anonymous Street Artist Banksy to produce an alternative nativity play at the artist’s Walled Off Hotel in the occupied West Bank. Thanks to the Metro for allowing us to link the interview to our audience at Artlyst.
Why did you want to put on a nativity? And in the car park of your Walled Off Hotel?
My hotel is less than a mile from the manger where Jesus was born, so I felt obliged to get into the Christmas spirit. I wanted to reach out to the neighbourhood and bring everyone together for a party, so I announced plans for a nativity play starring kids from the local refugee camp. It turns out most of them are Muslim.
You’re filming it. What were the biggest challenges?
The TV programme shows normal people living in a very un-normal situation. Usually, the only time you see Palestinian children on TV is when they’re being pulled from a pile of rubble. The film has been shot over the past few weeks and edited in days. Sometimes a huge task and a tight deadline can bring out the best in people. This time not so much.
What sort of reaction have you had from the locals?
The wall [built by Israel through the West Bank] dominates the area. It snakes for hundreds of miles right across the landscape. Although it turns out most of the local children didn’t know it existed. They live right near it, some only a couple of streets away, but their parents had kept it from them in an effort to preserve their innocence. I’d been making plans for an ironic, modern play about their situation but when the kids arrived at the wall they said: ‘What the hell is that?’
How easy was it to find people who wanted to be involved?
It’s hard to attract young Israelis because their government tells them if they cross the wall they’ll be killed. But many do visit, quietly. And they’re very welcome. And on the plus side we got a delightful lighting effect from the army sweeping the crowd with their searchlight.
Danny Boyle is directing it. Why did you choose him?
I just remembered Danny made Britain look cool at the Olympics, so I figured he can do pretty much anything. I was staggered when he mailed back and agreed to do it. I never met him and I’m not sure he’d speak to me now if I did. I slightly oversold the gig. I think I used words like ‘prime location’ and ‘natural amphitheatre’, whereas in reality it was unmistakably a patch of waste ground surrounded by graffiti under an army watchtower.
What was he like to work with?
Brilliant. He’s clever, thoughtful, laughs a lot. We had a few artistic disagreements. Danny is very community-minded, diplomatic and sensitive to people’s views, whereas I’m a w***er.
How did your hotel come about?
Bethlehem is famous for not having enough rooms — it seemed the obvious place to start a hotel chain.
How do you feel about the wall?
I think it’s one of the great man-made injustices of our time. That wall is a weapon. It declares an ‘us’ and a ‘them’. It defines you as being on the inside or the out. It crassly simplifies an enormously complex situation into black and white. And normally that’s my job.
What are the biggest misconceptions about Palestine?
The political situation in Israel and Palestine is a mess but it’s important to remember we helped create it. I liked something Salman Rushdie said recently: ‘The British don’t understand much about their history — because so much of it happened abroad.’
How did you feel about Trump recognising Jerusalem as the capital of Israel?
That’s going to create a lot of problems. As a hotelier in the Arab world, the last words you want to hear are ‘they’ve called for another uprising’. I’m starting to think Torquay would have been easier. Although there’s absolutely no guarantee Trump won’t be starting a war there next.
How challenging is it to maintain your anonymity?
It feels like we’re living at a time when the supporting characters are being asked to play the lead. The last thing we need is the guy who paints the scenery coming out and taking centre stage.
The recent picture doing the rounds of a street artist at work in Bethlehem — is that you?
I haven’t seen the photo but I can categorically tell you it’s not me. Especially if it is.
Alternativity is on BBC2, 9pm, Sunday This interview was reprinted from the London Metro.
Banksy is a legendary Bristol-born graffiti artist. His work typically includes satirical social and political commentary, and ranges from murals to sculpture and installation, often playing with the contextual aspects of the work. The artist’s first solo show was held in 2002 at Los Angeles’ 33 1/3 Gallery, and in 2003 he was commissioned to design to cover of Blur’s ThinkTank. Today, Banksy’s work appears internationally; most notably, he painted nine sardonic images on the Palestinian side of the West Bank barrier. In Summer 2009, Banksy took over the Bristol Museum and Art Gallery with an exhibition attracting over 300,000 visitors. His Dismaland project in Weston Super Mere attracted tens of thousands of visitors and boosted the local economy by £20m. The prophetic street artist created a centrepiece fire-ravaged Disney-like castle with payday lender stalls and a remote-controlled boat game which highlights the plight of immigrants. The show on the pier featured a Jimmy Savile Punch and Judy, highlighting domestic abuse scripted by the journalist Julie Burchill. Read More