In a few days, the Royal Academy’s esteemed Summer Exhibition will begin. The exhibition is the largest open submission contemporary art show that brings together works by some of today’s up and coming and most influential artists. Even ahead of the June 10th opening date, Banksy, the mysterious artist who shredded an artwork at auction last year, is already turning heads with his politicized submission in this year’s show titled Keep Ou.
Alongside the statues on pedestals and salon hang of artworks, visitors to the RA’s show who occasionally travel by plane will find a rather familiar sight: an EU customs arch like the kind you find at an airport. The arch, salvaged from Heathrow airport according to the RA, makes the base for Keep Ou. The customs passage is shuttered with the words ‘KEEP OUT’ emblazoned on them. The ‘T’ in ‘OUT’, however, has fallen to the ground where one of Banksy’s well-known stencilled rats is using it to break open a padlock holding the shutter down.
The artwork is a particularly blatant comment on immigration in the UK and Brexit proceedings and it isn’t Banksy’s first similar jab. In last year’s Summer Exhibition, the elusive artist produced a work resembling a Vote to Leave placard from the EU Referendum but a heart shaped balloon covered the word ‘leave’ transforming it into to a sign reading ‘Vote to Love,’ which was also the title of the work. Banksy has created works in response to the 2015 European immigrants crisis as well and last December, auctioned a sculpture called How heavy it weighs (2015) via raffle tickets with the proceeds going to Help Refugees, a humanitarian charity focused on assisting refugees.
News coverage on Keep Ou has also already sparked some back-and-forth on Twitter between those in favour of leaving the EU, particularly the Leave EU campaign, and those who aren’t happy about Brexit. On June 3rd, Krishnan Guru-Murthy with Channel 4 News tweeted pictures of the work by Banksy and Leave EU quickly snapped back tweeting: ‘Meanwhile, back in the real world, 201k people immigrated to Britain from the EU in 2018 along – that’s a city the size of Portsmouth!’
— Krishnan Guru-Murthy (@krishgm) June 3, 2019
Leave EU’s tweet rapidly accrued a plethora of frustrated responses from people pointing out that while a number of people immigrated to the UK (though the numbers today are the lowest since 2004), around 145,000 emigrated from the UK to parts of the EU under the free movement rights provided for members of the EU. When Brexit does go through, UK citizens will no longer benefit from such freedom of passage. One person even pointed out the fact that Leave EU didn’t seem interested in the fact that far more people immigrated to the UK from non-EU places.
Keep Ou follows a flurry of activity from the artist. In December, Banksy left a stencil mural in the industrial town of Port Talbot commenting on issues of recurring ash fallout from steel factories in the city. More recently, in May, Banksy made somewhat of an appearance in Venice alongside the opening of the 58th Venice Biennale, though he wasn’t invited. Banksy’s impromptu and unauthorized artist stand was in part a response to his lack of an invitation to exhibit at the prestigious Biennale and also to the suffocating tourism industry in the Italian city. Though he was forced to take his artwork else ware, he did confess to creating a stencil mural on one of the city’s canals.