We have a portrait of Winston Churchill, who was a former British Prime Minister and one of the most important political figures of the 20th century. There is a slight change: he was painted with a green mohican hairstyle. Turning a British hero into a delinquent, Banksy created a huge sensation by giving a little cut of his haircut.
Some might have said that this artwork is a mockery of a hero who led Britain to triumph against the Axis powers in World War II. Some might have thought it was just mundane street art or an act of vandalism that needed to be erased. However, I would like to share on how I see this piece of art.
It is a satire of world history in the 19th and 20th centuries, especially aimed at the Western powers expanding their colonies across Asia, the Pacific Islands, the West Indies and Africa.
In these regions, conflicts over settlements and territories by Western powers have not stopped at all. Many colonial wars like the Opium Wars and the Boer Wars seem to reflect the desire of European rulers struggling to gain a more favorable world order, national wealth, or military power. The greed to become a global hegemon finally peaked during World War I and World War II.
After two world wars, the countries that were under the colonization of Western powers slowly started gaining their independence. However, the spread of economic neo-colonialism, the emergence of ethnic, religious and political conflicts due to the borders set by Western powers followed.
In my international relations course last semester, the paradigm referred to as “realism” in this study represents what is discussed above. States are the central actors in international politics, rather than their citizens or international organizations.
Even though we have the international organization called the UN, their statements or decisions of the World Court are not legally binding. Because each nation has sovereignty, international organizations cannot force nations to comply with particular decisions or declarations. Because there is no higher authority to constrain state behavior, international politics is “lawless,” similar to the lawless zone. States also act rationally to achieve their own interests and, more importantly, they seek power to ensure their survival.
In this sense, one can understand why Banksy made Winston Churchill look like a delinquent or a mob with green mohawk hair. The way Britain and the Western powers fight over colonies is like mobs or gangsters fighting over certain territories or positions of power.
International politics has always been a “lawless zone” and the leaders of powerful nations put their national interests ahead of others, like the boss of gangsters putting their interests (powerful political influence or lucrative business) against the citizen safety. They probably needed this strategy to maintain their strong power in order to survive on the streets.
Living in the lawless zone, each nation must find its way to survive. Either being targeted by a mob or making a deal with a mob is up to the state.
Overall, Banksy’s artwork “Turf War” reminds me of the realism of the IR curriculum and historical references, but also reflects the cruel and harsh behaviors of the state stemming from national interests.