Story and photos by G. JAMES DAICHENDT
In 2002, Israel approved the construction of the most infamous wall in the world: the Israeli West Bank Barrier. The State of Israel intends for it to serve as a security blockade against terrorist attacks. The Palestinians on the other side of the wall see it in a negative light. To those who live in the West Bank the wall has become an unfortunate tool that has created a form of racial segregation that cuts off wages, social services, farmland, and schools from those who live there. While the towns along the wall have limited violence, the wall has also blighted many Palestinian villages.
This summer I had the opportunity to cross the security checkpoint from Israel into the Palestinian city of Bethlehem, where the street artist Banksy has established an installation and hotel, appropriately named the Walled Off Hotel (humorously sounding like the renowned and luxurious Waldorf Hotel). The fully functioning hotel and art gallery claims to have the worst view in the world; that serves as a smart critique of Middle Eastern politics.
Banksy has long been interested in the West Bank Barrier, having painted several large pieces on it over the years. His views are quite obvious, stating that the wall "essentially turns Palestine into the world’s largest open prison.” To bring attention to this frustrating circumstance, Banksy’s hotel is both a commercial venture and a critique, adequately capturing the dilemma the artist often falls into as a populist who makes accessible imagery yet strives for larger ideals. Encouraging tourists to cross the checkpoint, the hotel leverages the artist’s popularity to draw visitors to Palestine, something they may be frightened to do if they watch western news.
The hotel opened its doors during the winter of 2017 directly opposite a section of the wall that predated it by 15 years. The dirt road is now paved, and this small section of street appears to have been slightly upgraded because of the venture. These minor improvements may be considered both negative and positive changes since many locals are obviously not fans of the wall and would prefer to not normalize it.
The nine-room hotel houses an art gallery featuring Palestinian artists, a gift shop that sells Banksy-approved pieces (some painted by local artists), and a graffiti shop that hosts workshops so visitors can paint the wall. However, there is a lot of sadness in this part of Palestine and such a spectacle seems odd and insensitive. This juxtaposition is not lost in the design; you can even spend the night in the hotel bunker rooms that can be reserved for a discounted price.
There is reverence and apprehension for the hotel by locals. Cake$, a Palestinian street artist, says the “Banksy Hotel is like big white male (instead of whale) as Greyson Perry told once about art market.” It’s a huge force and one that clearly attracts a number of international artists, including a recent visit by Lush Sux, who painted several huge pieces around the area of the hotel (and a few for the gift shop).
Art for The Walled Off Hotel. Click on photo to enlarge.
The creations and artwork within the hotel are really what appeal to Banksy fans. The lobby functions as a giant installation with several small pieces curated around the space.
Visual overload is an understatement; there is a lot to take in. Two bowls placed next to one another feature fish that want to kiss but are held back by their isolated locations. Another three-dimension installation features a faux cat attempting to capture a bird locked in a cage, while a painting opposite the gift shop depicts young children climbing over St. Peter’s gates to gain entry into heaven.
Notice the theme? The “on-the-nose” messaging is part of the frustration with Banksy but it’s also why he’s universally understood and fun to engage with.
As one peers through the windows of the hotel, the contrast of the ironically luxurious interior with the gray slabs of concrete that make up the wall just outside is stunning. The walls feel insurmountable and the sections continue in an unending rhythm down the street and out of sight. The lookout/sniper towers that reach up higher in particular areas reinforce a trapped feeling, much like if you were to fall into a well and several enemies watched you from the top to ensure you could not escape. Yet there is an escapist mentality inside the hotel and it’s very easy to forget where you are.
The Israeli-Palestinian conflict has layers of history, and while this wall was intended to prevent attacks, it had dreadful effects on several communities. Cake$ reminded me that, “Painting the wall in Bethlehem is like overpainting the horizon.” The Walled Off Hotel is so much more than a painting on a wall; it’s a political statement that encourages people to cross the border, support local artists, and stands as a symbol of protest, while simultaneously functioning as a profitable business that is booked solid, much like Banksy himself.
G. James Daichendt is Dean of the Colleges and Professor of Art History at Point Loma Nazarene University in San Diego. He is the author of 'Kenny Scharf: In Absence of Myth, Shepard Fairey: Artist/Professional/Vandal" and "The Urban Canvas: Street Around the World."
Murals on the West Bank barrier commenting on Middle Eastern politics. Click on photo to enlarge.
D O A R
T : The sign that once read Indoor Garden Organic Supercenter became a guerrilla message. Consider it an alternative gateway to the downtown Las Vegas Arts District.
I will be taking an indefinite summer sabbatical to work on options that could lead to the next stage of Paint This Desert. During that time I will also be doing some art-making, catching up on reading, and write non art freelance essays. You may see some tinkering around the site, and I will still be chatting up on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Also, proceeds from the sales of BUNKO based prints and other general swag will be stashed away into a PtD fund. Until then, here is a summer Link + Ink with art items leading into September.
A MURAL OF MAYORS: In the arts district Mayor Carolyn Goodman, and former mayor Oscar Goodman, with ever-present martini, offer a gleeful toast to anyone wandering the alleys on a mural safari.
BACK UP: In between haunts at DIsneyland and Melrose Avenue, There She Is Art and You Kill Me First have begun popping-up again in the 18b. They produce works that fall under what Dr. Rafael Schacter wrote in "Esto Es Graffiti" (2014); visual ornaments that "aim for parity which held elitism in contempt." And by being seen in public space without the support of galleries works like this "overturn the laws" of traditional art markets.
Photo: UNLV Creative Services: Lonnie Timmons III / Courtesy of the Marjorie Barrick Museum of Art
LINK: In my preview of Andrew Schoultz's "In Process" at the Marjorie Barrick Museum of Art I wrote the installation will be an "ephemeral summer affair with art." Don't miss it. A bar has been raised for both venue and artist . . . Some Ink: "Welcome to Andrew Schoultz’s world. It’s a colorful, sometimes fantastical place, populated by prancing beasts breathing fire," says the Review-Journal . . .More Ink: "The installations depend on confident, single-stroke, uncorrected lines. In 'Spinning Eyes,' those lines deploy large-scale optical interference patterns that literally make our casual viewer dizzy! Centered in each pattern is the all-seeing eye, inspired by the orb atop the pyramid of the almighty dollar and looking in the direction of 24-hour surveillance." That's from Las Vegas Weekly. . . Summer Days: "In Process: Every Movement Counts" runs through September 15.
OPEN CALL FOR ART: Artists are also being invited by Settler + Nomads to submit work of any medium for Today is All We Have, the website's first digital exhibition. (The deadline is July 6). Curated by Holly Lay and Mikayla Whitmore, the selected digital images or videos will be presented as an online gallery in August 2018.
UNLV TEASER: A group Latino/a/x show is now being planned for Fall at UNLV. It will be mounted at the Donna Beam Fine Art Gallery and a reception will be on the night of UNLV College of Fine Arts Annual Art Walk on October 12. They are hashtag ready. #ArtWalkUNLV
MORE EXHIBITION NOTES
BELLAGIO: Curated by Midori Nishizawa, "Primal Water" will feature twenty-eight Post-War and contemporary Japanese works in painting, sculpture, photography, site-specific installation, and film by artists referring to water as a way to explore themes that respond to the absence of resources. “Las Vegas, having prospered as an oasis in the desert, has a meaningful connection with this theme,” said Nishizawa in a release. "Primal Water" at the Bellagio Gallery of Fine Art runs from June 29 through October 21, 2018.
ADD July 5: Carol Cling is clearing her desk with last writing-to-do list. The retiring arts writer reviews 'Primal Water' in '14 Japanese artists depict water in new Bellagio gallery' / On June 30, Cling said goodbye to her readers in 'RJ arts writer reflects on 34 years of Las Vegas culture in final column.'
LOCAL HEADLINES: How arts are funded in Las Vegas . . . 8NewsNow catches up on public art struck by cars or that melted in the heat . . . Las Vegas art museum draws closer to reality . . . Has anything been resolved from that Clark County Rotunda art controversy? Not much.
Photo courtesy of Geia de la Peña /NCCA @ National Commission for Culture and the Arts
FAR FLUNG EXHIBITION NOTES: Gig Depio "Bring Home the Bacon" at NCCA Gallery, Intramuros, Manila. Curated by Egai Fernandez. It closes June 30 (above) . . . Tim Bavington "Blow-up" is now on view at Talley Dunn Gallery in Dallas, Texas. It closes July 28, 2018 (below) . . . At Monterey Museum of Art, UNLV MFA alum Lisa Rock is the FLUX in "Currents + FLUX." With Carol Henry. From June 22 – July 22, 2018 . . . At Corey Helford Gallery in Los Angeles, Sush Machida just ended a two-person exhibition with Jon Fox. It ran from May 1 through June 16.
Screen grab / American Craft Council
HARDEST WORKING FAV IN LOCAL ART BIZ: Justin Favela is the subject in the current 2018 issue of American Craft Council Magazine, and gets video to boot…With Emmanuel “Babelito” Ortega, Latinos Who Lunch was featured at the Los Angeles Latino International Film Festival. . . June also saw Justin as the artist-in-residence at Space Gallery in Portland, Maine . . . On June 1st, 2018, he was awarded the Alan Turing LQTBIQ Award for International Artist while representing the U.S. at ARN Culture Business Pride Festival in the Canary Islands.
'Moral Assault.' Photo: PtD.
FIELD NOTES: A new mural by street artist Izaac Zevalking, the social-political operative behind the brand Recycled Propaganda, continues his crafted commentary that uses pop-culture references.
This one is loaded. Titled “Moral Assault,” the large-scale stencil work uses the Morton Salt logo, known in the canon of corporate marketing as the Umbrella Girl.
Visible from the sidewalk on East Colorado just east of South Main Street, the icons of innocence are set against the blue field and repeated as a trio, so the stepping forward is now a synchronized march of defiance. The piece states protection from the elements is no longer hiding under an umbrella, but raising a fist in clenched protest. With the gesture of head facing down, the hand in the air kindles the moment when gold medalist Tommie Smith and bronze medalist John Carlos wore black gloves. They raised their fists in a Black Power salute when the national anthem was played during their medal ceremony at the 1968 Olympic Games in Mexico City.
What are the three salt girls protesting? That’s not clear. Is it something from the current White House that questions a moral choice via Tweet or policy action? The title also hints that sexual assault is the topic. It could be anything. During these times seeking something to speak out on is not hard. In this reign, it pours.
ABOVE: Luis Varela Rico