Banksy: Genius or Vandal?

Words by Joana Silva

Nestled under a flawless Summer sky, located in the ‘Cordoaria Nacional’ building, the Banksy ‘Genius or Vandal’ exhibition is the latest addition to the Lisbon tourist scene this summer. Open till October, fellow Banksy-fans and sceptics alike can indulge in a range of original pieces and prints including his famous ‘Girl with Balloon’ and ‘Monkey Parliament’.

Those familiar with the mystery man’s work know to expect satire, sarcasm, irony and parody. Those who are not, will leave with a crash course in social commentary: the kind which unapologetically exposes mankind’s many failings across the 20th and 21st century.

Upon entry, visitors are greeted with a montage of Banksy’s shenanigans across the globe: from London and Bristol (of course), to New Orleans and Palestine. The sheer volume and variety of art on display in the clip, truly reminds us of his transcendence as a creative.

Whilst it is the perfect adornment to an already healthy street-art scene in Lisbon, this exhibition is not just another trivial addition to your Instagram page. The power of this collection lies in its ability to shine light on the insidious systems and structures who have for too long gnawed away at our freedoms. It is also uncomfortable at times, holding a mirror up to the corruptive behaviours we demonstrate as individuals too. The visually pleasing aesthetics are a hook – an albeit superb execution of artistic skill, but really, just a hook.

The most poignant piece perhaps, is that which captures the event our children and their children simply must not forget: the Holocaust. Visitors will be struck by Banksy’s depiction of Jewish detainees at a concentration camp, with bright lipstick on, as they stare through a chain link fence. Accompanying the piece titled ‘Manifesto’, is an excerpt from Lieutenant Colonel Mervin Gonin’s diary. The chilling account of his first encounter with the detainees – and the surprising impact that a delivery of red lipstick had on their morale – left many visitors standing in awe. He explains:

“I wish, so much that I could discover who did it, it was an action of genius, sheer unadulterated brilliance. I believe nothing did more for those internees than lipstick.”

The artwork is organised by theme, each one complemented by a range of the Bristolian’s best musings on life in the modern world. Each emboldened quote allows us mere humans an insight into the mind of what can only be an artistic genius. He reminds us that it is those who obey rules that are responsible for wars and massacres. He attacks our consumerist lifestyles, those fuelled by the capitalist systems he mocks and scathes. The quotations around the exhibition are a simple but necessary component of your visit.

So, if Lisbon is on the cards for a cheeky city break, this exhibition is a mandatory addition to your itinerary (you only have till October)! Whether you’re the “art-type” or not, ‘Genius or Vandal’ is well worth the €13. Not only is it a feast for the eyes, it is the kind of food for the soul we have been craving.


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