In Depth

Banksy's dark theme park Dismaland opens

From a coach-crash Cinderella to Jimmy Savile puppets, new Banksy show is gleefully bleak

After much speculation earlier this week, elusive street artist Banksy's new exhibition has been revealed to the media in a derelict seafront lido in Weston-super-Mare. Dubbed a 'bemusement park' by the artist, the show has already attracted positive reviews and is set to open to the public this weekend.

The Dismaland show, in the old Tropicana lido, also features work from Damien Hirst, Jenny Holzer and Jimmy Cauty, and will be on display at the site for five weeks.

Banksy described the show as a "family theme park unsuitable for children", reports the BBC. "I loved the Tropicana as a kid, so getting to throw these doors open again is a real honour," Banksy said. He added that he was inspired to stage the exhibition there after peering into the derelict site earlier this year.

The show is his first in the UK since 2009's Banksy v Bristol Museum show, which drew huge crowds.

Dismaland offers a critique of the Disney theme park, featuring nightmarish visions of a post-coach-crash Cinderella, a performing killer whale jumping out of toilets and an oil-caliphate-themed mini golf course. Other 'highlights' include a Jimmy-Savile-themed Punch and Judy show, a fire pit for burning Jeffrey Archer novels and a boat pond crammed with refugees. Many of the exhibits require audience participation. 

"The defining tone of his latest show is one of gleeful, establishment-blaming, adolescent despair," says art critic Mark Hudson in the Daily Telegraph, who he found the show "excellent".

Hudson points out that the un-made-up walkways and ruined surfaces of Dismaland belie "the real money behind it and technical expertise that has brought the whole thing together". And while you may not agree with his anti-capitalist politics, says Hudson, "the passion and fundamental seriousness behind this alternative summer holiday destination aren't in doubt". 

Bleak is an understatement, says George Bowden on the Huffington Post. Inside Cinderella's castle lies possibly "the exhibition's most poignant exhibit". After visitors have a photograph taken against a green screen, they stumble through the darkness to find an overturned carriage and a dead Cinderella, sprawled on the ground. "This doesn't dissuade the half dozen paparazzi whose cameras flash incessantly capturing every inch of the tragic scene."

Dismaland is holding an opening event for local residents today, and will open to the public on Saturday. The show costs £3 for adults and is free for children under five.

A number of musicians, including Kate Tempest and members of Pussy Riot, will perform at Dismaland during its five-week run.

One group who won't be seeing the exhibition is Disney's legal team, reports the Daily Telegraph. The Dismaland website's small print states: "The following are strictly prohibited in the Park – spray paint, marker pens, knives and legal representatives of the Walt Disney Corporation."

The theme park is open until September 27. Booking ahead, at, is strongly advised.

Dismaland - is Banksy trolling Disney with theme park?

19 August

As Disney unveiled plans this week for two new Star Wars lands, construction of another lesser-known theme park was nearing completion in the UK. Now reports have emerged that enigmatic British street artist Banksy is about to unveil a new pop-up show, Dismaland, in Weston-Super-Mare this weekend.The theme park, reports the Daily Mail, has been built on the site of the old Tropicana lido, but has been kept under wraps as locals were told a Hollywood production company was filming there. Speculation about Banksy's involvement in the project began to mount, however, when a woman believed to be his manager, Holly Cushing, was spotted at the site. Cushing was executive producer on Exit Through The Gift Shop, a film about Banksy, whose true identity remains a mystery. Financial records also show that Cushing set up a company called Dismaland Ltd earlier this year. The exhibition is understood to be opening to the public on Friday, with officials expecting thousands of people to descend on the seaside resort in Somerset. There has been no official announcement from Banksy or Cushing, says The Guardian, but a structure resembling a sinister derelict version of Disney's fairy castle can now be seen from the beach.There has been "a huge element of cloak and dagger around the project", adds the newspaper, which says that locals were told that a crime thriller called Grey Fox was being filmed there, even though there has been no sign of a film crew, cameras or runners. Security around the construction is also very high. If the show does open this weekend, it may be good news for Weston-Super-Mare. Banksy's 2009 exhibition in Bristol attracted more than 300,000 visitors over 12 weeks and was estimated to have generated £10m for the local economy.The Daily Beast reports that the name "Dismaland" comes from a piece of Banksy graffiti from around 2012, which may indicate that this project has been in the pipeline for some time.It won't be the first time Banksy has trolled Disney either, says the Beast. Back in 2006, the graffiti artist inserted a life-sized inflatable doll dressed as a Guantanamo Bay detainee, complete with orange jumpsuit, in the Big Thunder Mountain Railroad ride at Disneyland in Anaheim, California.

The figure is said to have remained there for 90 minutes before being removed. A spokesman for Banksy at the time claimed "the stunt was intended to highlight the plight of terror suspects at the controversial detention centre in Cuba".

Who is Banksy: artist unmasked, but mystery persists

14 January

Street artist Banksy has made a name for himself with anti-capitalist, anti-establishment and anti-war works of graffiti. But to many he remains no more than a name: despite  rumours, theories and a convinving unmasking, doubt remains about his true identity.

The air of mystery has contributed to global interest in Banksy and his work, as has his willingness to travel. Works by Banksy have appeared in Mali and on the wall that divides Israel from the Palestinian territories, as well as in London and his supposed home town of Bristol.

Secret identity: who is Banksy?

There is no shortage of theories about Banksy's identity and, perhaps, no shortage of Banksys: Canadian artist Chris Healey has claimed that "Banksy" is really a collective of seven artists. However, he has not explained what led him to that conclusion, saying only that the information comes from a reliable source.

One of the few people to have interviewed Banksy, The Guardian's Simon Hattenstone, described him as looking "like a cross between Jimmy Nail and Mike Skinner of the Streets" when he met him back in 2003.

Five years later, the Mail on Sunday claimed to have unmasked him, saying that it had "uncovered compelling evidence suggesting that the artist is former public schoolboy Robin Gunningham". 

The image printed by the paper does bear a passing resemblance to Mike Skinner and Jimmy Nail

In October last year reports began to circulate that Banksy had been arrested in London, and exposed as Liverpool-born Paul Homer. However, it was soon confirmed that the report was incorrect: several details were demonstrably wrong and no such arrest had taken place.

It was then suggested by CityLab writer Kriston Capps that Banksy is really a woman.

"Compared to the highly visible work of Invader or Fairey or dozens of other high-profile street artists, Banksy's work is different," he writes. "Girls and women figure into Banksy's stenciled figures, for starters, something that isn't true of 99 per cent of street art." 

The Mail on Sunday's case is regarded by most observers as the strongest, but nevertheless many seem reluctant to accept it.

"Far from letting daylight in on Banksy's nocturnal magic," writes Andrew Anthony in The Observer, "the biographical revelation was almost wilfully forgotten. Both his fans and detractors appeared to prefer the hooded mystery man to the suburban manager's son."

Banksy goes undercover in Gaza - video

26 February

Banksy has released a satirical short film intended to highlight the human cost of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The subversive street artist travelled to the region undercover and painted three new works of art on Gaza's crumbling walls.

Video captions of the mock travel advert include: "The locals like it so much they never leave (because they are not allowed to)" and "Nestled in an exclusive setting (surrounded by a wall on three sides with a line of gun boats on the other)".

The short video depicts the destruction caused by the 50-day conflict which left 2,000 Palestinians dead, including 539 children. 67 Israeli soldiers also lost their lives.

The artist's publicist, Jo Brooks, confirmed that the video footage and images are authentic.

This isn't the first time the artist has made a political statement on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In 2005, he travelled to the West Bank and left artwork on the 425-mile-long West Bank barrier, which separates Israel from the Palestinian territories and is considered illegal by the United Nations.His latest works of art include children swinging from a surveillance tower, a grieving mother, and a kitten in pink bow playing with a ball of metal. 

"A local man came up and said 'Please - what does this mean?'," says Banksy.

"I explained I wanted to highlight the destruction in Gaza by posting photos on my website – but on the internet people only look at pictures of kittens."

The clip ends with the statement: "If we wash our hands of the conflict between the powerful and the powerless we side with the powerful — we don't remain neutral."



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