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SEMIOTIC ANALYSIS OF BANKSY GRAFFITI

INSPIRATION
It is a cold winter night and the avalanche of assignments towards the end of the trimester
has taken a toll on my patience. As I lay on my bed gazing at the blank ceiling, I am
reminded that I need to select a topic on which I will do my semiotics assignment. For the
last two weeks I have been scourging the internet for inspiration, but every road leading to
discovery and every path which promised, ostensibly of striking gold has culminated in a culde sac. Exasperated with my futile attempts I head towards the Mess to seek solace in food.
The hostel courtyard is lit up brightly and as I descend the stairs, my eyes again befall on the
iconic graffiti of a masked man throwing a flower bouquet, an image which has become
synonymous with PALAASH-The mens hostel. The graffiti is an imitation of Banksys
famous Flower Thrower stencil Illustration on a wall in Jerusalem and has subsequently
been reproduced in the form of T-shirts and posters the world over- Ironical? Such graffiti are
a commonplace at MICA and I am elated that I could finally hit upon a topic. The excitement
of this epiphany which dawned on me overshadowed my sulkiness at the sight of
unpalatable food.
The scope of this short response paper is to do a semiotic analysis of two of Bankys
artwork. The analysis contains my viewpoint and incorporates some of the frameworks of
semiotic analysis. (Sassurean model, Pierces model, Umber Eco et al.). The artworks are
open to interpretation and this paper does not intend nor claim to give an exhaustive
analysis.
BANKSY- AN INTRO
Banksy is the nom de plume of a street graffiti artist, activist and a documentary film-maker.
He is notorious for his highly controversial and politically charged graffiti and artwork all
around the world. He rose to prominence in the late 90s because of his signature style of
stencil graffiti. He uses street walls and self-built props for his artwork. He pops up at
different places around the world to display his art and to support humanitarian causes.
Recently his graffiti were spotted in Gaza where he made a CAT on the wall of a decrepit
house and Syria where his graffiti depicted Steve Jobs as a migrant. Both these graffiti went
viral on the internet. He is the subject of a 2010 documentary titled Exit Through the Gift
Shop.

SEMIOTIC ANALYSIS
Graffiti-1 Protester and Mother

With the whole world caught up with the problem of governance and the changing landscape
of power dynamics in their country, taking a subject close to which represented the current
mood in world politics seemed appropriate to me.
The medium of this message is graffiti on a wall. The focus seems to be on the texts
because it is proportionately much larger compared to the image on the right. So when you
look at the image (graffiti) your attention falls first on the texts. Also if you look at the still
visual on the right first in isolation i.e without the text it may not capture the crux of the
message. Your best way to capture the complete essence and meaning of this graffiti would
be to enter the frame from left and move towards right.
In the image used for analysis, you are not viewing the actual graffiti. It is a photograph
(replica) of the graffiti drawn by Banksy. In this sense according to Umberto-Ecos three
[1]
kinds of sign vehicles , the type and the token (replica) are distinct from each other. A
person actually viewing the actual graffiti (and not this image) may interpret the message in
a different way because she is not exposed to any particular frame.
SIGNIFIERS & SIGNIFIED
Ferdinand De Saussure had stated that there exists an arbitrary relation between the
signifier and signified and to interpret the signifiers one to be familiar with the conventions
used to communicate meaning. From this graffiti you could interpret the following signs.
Large Capital Texts: represents the graffiti shouting at you to gain attention.
Black and Red Colours in text: Signifying Power (Control) and danger respectively
Liberty Spike Hair: Signifying the United States of America (Statue of Liberty). This depicts
the protester in power and rebelling against American Government interventions.

Blue Jacket and Jeans with chain: This signifies modernity, trendiness and youthfulness
Red Mask: Showing the anonymity of the protester and his thirst for vengeance (Blood)
Black Flag with the symbol of A: Signifies anarchism and complete freedom
Apron and dark rimmed glasses: Housewife and motherly figure.
Flask, Bag and Green Apple: the care and warmth shown by the mother.
DENONATIVE MEANING
The relationship signifiers and the signified described above were based on the denotative
interpretation of the signifier. The graffiti shows a protestor holding a black Anarchy flag and
letting his mother adjust the mask that he is wearing. It depicts angst and love in the same
frame which is one of the striking dichotomies in this graffiti. The blue jacket, narrow bottom
jeans with chains gives a Western undertone to the graffiti. The Liberty Spikes hairstyle
which gets its name from the Statue of Liberty further strengthens the interpretationrebelling youth being Western (American). The Youth is shown expressing his dissent
towards the Government and demanding complete Anarchy. The Black flag that he holds in
the left hand is a personification of his thoughts and his values- expression of idea and
freedom. Yet the red mask that he is wearing signifies that he wants to remain anonymous
and still take vengeance for the atrocities of the Government. But the unwillingness of the
protester to be identified shows his cowardice- Again the dichotomy (Rebel and Coward).
The quote Dont Forget to Eat Your Lunch and Make Some Trouble is actually the
words of the mother to her child while setting his mask. The text itself presents a dichotomyHow can a mother love her child and yet encourage him to break the law? The apron
signifies that she was in the kitchen packing his food when he came. She gives him the food
and sets his mask in a way to express that she cares for him. The phrase MAKE SOME
TROUBLE is written in bold red. This denotes that the mother wants him to fight against the
government for his rights and freedom but at the same time she is worried that it might
portend danger for him (Red here denotes danger). Also the fact that her face is invisible
denotes that she is hiding her face from the social stigma of being a mother who inspires her
child to be notorious.
CONNOTATIVE MEANING

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