Art is one of the few things that can get the soul through times of true suffering, even as the world continues to offer trials and tribulations. The legendary artist Banksy is no stranger to digging into the darker sides of civilization and somehow coming up with a spark of resilient hope. And his latest work that sprung up over the weekend in Borodyanka, Ukraine seems aimed to give some of that resilient spirit to the people whose lives are still being torn apart by war with Russia.
Borodyanka was on the primary path of Russia in their early 2022 invasion. Many apartment buildings were shelled and bombed, with reports of abductions and interrogations. Russia proceeded to block recovery efforts, leaving survivors to starve. The bombings saw approximately eighty deaths while the subsequent fallout and collapsing of buildings are estimated at having deaths in the hundreds.
Murals were reportedly spotted in the war-torn area in early November, and this past weekend Banksy confirmed one of the works as his own through an Instagram image of it. Painted at the base of one of the bombed-out apartment buildings, it depicts a young gymnast in monochrome balancing on a pile of rubble against the wall in a handstand, her legs split and rising up toward the great heights of the ruins.
There’s a powerful juxtaposition in the scope of this work, let alone the context of it in the midst of Ukraine’s struggle against Russia. The girl depicted appears to be life-sized, yet placed against the imposing and dilapidated structure, her minute form pales in comparison to the dread towering above her. And yet the strength of form given to her gives the illusion of being able to withstand any collapse. It feels reminiscent of a cat found in one of the bombed buildings of Borodyanka who made headlines after surviving two months trapped on an upper floor, becoming a symbol of Ukraine’s own perseverance and survival.
Banksy art can veer towards the cynical in its satirical form, and with its cultural saturation, there are times that it feels more like pop culture than a dissection of it (the two not being mutually exclusive). But with works like he has done in Borodyanka, it is a good reminder of the passionate drive that has always fuelled the artist’s work. We’ll find out soon enough if the rest of the works springing up in the area also belong to the artist.