Tim Liptrot: Banksy and the Use of Religious Imagery to Criticize Violence

The first piece is named “armored peace dove.” I have intentionally included an image of it on the wall of a Palestinian home in the occupied territories. Context and location are an important part of the message to Banksy’s art which draws on traditions of graffiti. I apologize that I’m not an art major and don’t have the language to describe art.

The work features an enormous dove, carrying an olive branch, juxtaposed with its bulletproof vest and the target drawn on it. The dove is of course the classic christian symbol of both god and peace. An olive branch is a proverbial symbol for the willingness to negotiate to avoid violence. These two classic elements of the christian/western peace-building tradition are juxtaposed with the violence inherent in the bullet proof vest and the target. This lends itself to multiple interpretations. Has the target lead peace to armor itself to attack? Or by donning armor does the dove incriminate itself in the violence, corrupting the peace it symbolizes?

To explore this we should look at where the symbol was placed. Banksy chose to first debut the piece on the apartheid wall in Bethlehem in the occupied territories. The apartheid wall has become a symbol of Israeli oppression of the Palestinian people, of settler colonialism and of land theft. But it is also a symbol of the failure of the west to restrain settler colonialism in Israel after the ICJ ruled the wall illegal but did not take action to stop it. Viewed in this context, I see Banksy’s piece as a dark criticism of the failures and contradictions of so western peacebuilding and conflict regulating institutions. To me the piece says “you speak the language of christian peace, but in your actions you are violent or complicit in violence”. I also like how the spray paint he used drips from the high contrast around the birds wings. I think it gives the piece more punch.