Banksy: Vortex of the Zeitgeist


“The thing I hate the most about advertising is that it attracts all the bright, creative and ambitious young people, leaving us mainly with the slow and self-obsessed to become our artists. Modern art is a disaster area. Never in the field of human history has so much been used by so many to say so little. ~Banksy.

As someone who sometimes has trouble in malls and grocery stores because of what I can only begin to describe as a kind of semiotic agoraphobia, I have found a great deal to appreciate in the artistic devices and proclamations of the British artist known only as Banksy. His talent for revealing the links between graffiti and advertizing, what they imply about the public use of space, of symbols, of human attention, of the powers at play in the way these things are shaped, will no doubt make him stand out as one of our generations’ most notable contributions to art history.

I may be wrong here, but I’ve always felt that much modern art, despite the highly erudite and supposedly subversive messages contained within it, has had an overall conservative, reactionary, and culturally stagnating effect. This, while holding itself with the same smug sense of self-satisfaction, singed in the fires of righteous indignation, reserved for the avant-garde and radical. If you have to have the money, time and other support structures required to go to art school for four or more years just to have a positive emotional response to two blue stripes separated by a red one (i.e. Voice of Fire, by Barnett Newman), it’s probably not as radical as you suspect.

In the 1950s and 60s, the CIA covertly funded such artists as Jackson Pollock, Robert Motherwell, Willem de Kooning and Mark Rothko. This is not to say that the artists involved knew of, or would have approved of, this support, but only that abstract expressionism, and its equally abstract descendants, can and have also served conservatism and nationalistic propaganda.

It is important to keep in mind that things are never inherently radical or conservative though, that these are not properties essential to the work of art itself; they change overtime, from place to place and person to person. Yet it does seem that we live in a context were individuals frequently find themselves confronted with heavily restricted and shepherded hermeneutic resources, be they in the form of advertizements telling us how to interpret products or scientific and political developments, the import of which are fed to us through “talking head” commentators. Within this context art that requires artists to tell us how “high” art is to be appreciated and set apart from “low brow” art, or those things merely produced by illustrators, hardly seems to stand in contrast to the reactionary and conservative interests of the current age.

In the highly stylized yet realistic climate of soviet art, Voice of Fire would have been truly a revolutionary act and a powerful political commentary. Yet it made its first public appearance in America alongside an Apollo space capsule, red-and-white striped Apollo parachutes, photographs of the moon and images of movie stars.

I’ve commented in a previous post about the culture of advertizing and what I feel are some of its effects on the human psyche, and what can be done about it. In a much more immediate sense, on the ground and in the streets, I believe Banksy has shown how graffiti is another valuable player in the conductorless orchestra of semiotic resistance.

And for this, I am grateful.






Banksy: Armoured Peace Dove

Armoured Peace Dove, West Bank.

“Joseph and Mary making their way toward Bethlehem, only to find their route blocked by the Israeli West Bank barrier.”

For More Information:


Featured bottom right, “Irony”.

Asherah, the Wife of God

After exploring the relationship between masculine and feminine aspects of the divine in gnosticism I was surprised to learn that in some of the most ancient Israelite literature available, Yahweh may have had a wife. Her name was Asherah. While the scholarly community as a whole has been hesitant to state that Asherah was an independent entity, instead of some kind of votive offering, ritual or mediating principle, there are a number of researchers who accept that she was indeed just that. In either case, Asherah was certainly a Semitic deity worshiped in the Middle East and parts of north eastern Africa. She existed, but did she ever come to play the role of the “Queen of Heaven”?

Before the more widespread imposition of an austere, monotheistic Judaism, Yahwey seemed to have often been worshiped alongside other local deities, such as Baal and Asherah. Particularly in the ancient Canaanite city of Ugarit (in present day Syria) Asherah and Yahwey were repeatedly presented together in what some scholars, such as Francesca Stavrakopoulou, suggest is a matrimonial relationship.

The practice of worshiping imported and quasi-local deities was disrupted in ancient Israelite societies after conflict with the Assyrians caused a backlash against foreign imports, particularly of a theological bent, and at some point before the 7th century BCE, references to Asherah becomes scarce.

With a dilettante’s eye, a brief glimpse of the literature does suggest that some groups probably worshiped Asherah as a consort of Yahwey, as it was a common practice in other Semitic religions at the time, though the question of how widespread this practice was, and its uniformity from one Israelite community to the other, is harder to ascertain.

What does seem clear is that the answer to the question: “Did God have a wife?” could be vitally important to the present socio-cultural milieu in which we find ourselves. We have the historical evidence to show how Christianity emerged as an extremely heterogeneous, “pagan” and politically contingent phenomena during the decline of the Roman Empire. Yet because of its greater age and the nature of the sources left behind, it is much harder to clearly delineate all of the contingencies in the origins of Judaism (though contingencies there must be, it being a historical phenomena). The authority provided by the sense of necessity surrounding this lack of knowledge about the historical past, combined with the current tensions in the area, still living ideas of birthright and religious, if not ethnic purity, make for a highly charged issue that could undermine present day claims and interests in the Middle East.

The debates surrounding Asherah, “God’s wife”, demonstrate just how far the past can reach into the present, especially when that past is shrouded in mystery, and aside from what or who was worshiped those thousands of years ago, attentive observers will  learn much more about our current society than is possible of those earlier epochs. Yet because, not despite, of this difficulty, it makes a careful consideration of what has been left behind all the more important.

For More Information:

Emerton, J.A. (Jul., 1999). “‘Yahweh and His Asherah’: The Goddess or Her Symbol?” In Vetus Testamentum Vol. 49, Fasc. 3, pp. 315-337.

Olyan, Saul. (1988). Asherah and the Cult of Yahweh in Israel. Atlanta: Scholars Press.

Hadley, Judith. (2000). The Cult of Asherah in Ancient Israel and Judah: Evidence for a Hebrew Goddess. Cambridge: Cambridge University press.

Becking, Bob. (2001). Only one god?: monotheism in ancient Israel and the veneration of the goddess Asherah. London: Sheffield Academic Press.

Cornelius, Izak. (2004). The many faces of the goddess : the iconography of the Syro-Palestinian goddesses Anat, Astarte, Qedeshet, and Asherah, c. 1500-1000 BCE. Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht.