The British artist known as Banksy has become the subject of an exhibition in the occupied Palestinian territories.
As a gesture of thanks for his contribution to increasing tourism and awareness, photographs and prints of 20 pieces of artwork have gone on display in Manger Square in the town of Bethlehem, which has been a key site of much of Banksy’s recent activity.
He has been active in the West Bank for over 15 years. Four of his most prominent works are located there.
The anonymous artist recently auctioned a triptych of paintings, depicting scenes alluding to the Mediterranean migration crisis, at the London auction house Sotheby’s, raising £2.2 million ($2.87 million) for a hospital in Bethlehem.
The town is also the site of Banksy’s famous Walled Off hotel, at a location directly opposite a wall erected by Israel, famously claiming to offer the “worst view of any hotel in the world.”
As part of the Manger Square exhibit, the words “Thank you Banksy” were carved across a stretch of beach.
“Banksy always surprises us, and today I want to surprise him, to show Banksy that we’re grateful for the support,” exhibition coordinator Yamen Elabed said in a video message.
“I just want the message of thanks to reach Banksy … He has helped our economy with ‘alternative’ tourism.”
Ayoub Ali, a Bethlehem taxi driver, told the Guardian newspaper that Banksy’s work had helped diversify tourism in Bethlehem, which is a major pilgrimage destination as the site of the birth of Jesus Christ.
Tourists “only know Bethlehem is where Jesus was born, the Church of the Nativity — which I am proud of — but Banksy’s idea is also to see where there are 3 million Palestinians living, in the West Bank,” Ali said.
The town has suffered a serious drop in tourism since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic led to global lockdowns and the virtual suspension of international aviation.
“This city relies on tourism. So many people are now out of a job, with the closing of hotels, souvenir shops, many restaurants, tour companies and a lack of work for tour guides like myself,” Elabed said. “We all are just waiting for tourism to return.”
Visitors to the exhibition are given a free Banksy-themed face mask upon arrival.
Elabed said the artist had put himself at serious risk by doing so much to highlight the plight of the Palestinian people.
“It was a risk because during the first uprising and second uprising, drawing graffiti on the wall was forbidden. Many people got hurt or arrested for doing graffiti. So Banksy did a lot for Palestinians,” Elabed added. “We want to see him again in Palestine.”