The ‘versus’ habit: Bristol, Banksy and the Barons
Gough, P. (2011) The ‘versus’ habit: Bristol, Banksy and the Barons. In: Andrews, M. , Bagot Jewitt, C. and Hunt, N. , eds. (2011) ‘Lest We Forget’: Remembrance and Commemoration. London: The History Press, pp. 128-132. ISBN 9780752459653
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Little is ever forgotten in Bristol. The historic enmity between the two halves of the city may be well hidden, but it is played out in the psycho-geographies of a ‘federal’ city. During the eighteenth century, gathered to the north around Georgian Clifton lived the high Anglican, high Tory, merchant class, largely represented by the Society of the Merchant Venturers. Over centuries they became the most powerful mercantile cartel in Bristol and the region; their wealth and status partly founded on the trade in slaves and other ‘goods’ from the west coast of Africa. On the other side of the city, the Non-conformist, Whig/Liberal industrialists of Bedminster, the separate town that eventually became South Bristol, strongly associated with Dissention and the development of tobacco, sugar and chocolate industries owned by Non-conformist families such as the Frys and Wills, dynasties linked to the Quakers and rooted in manufacturing rather than maritime trading.... ...It is not surprising then that the anonymous Bristol-bred street artist Banksy chose a provocatively adversarial title for his 2009 retrospective show: ‘Bansky versus Bristol Museum’. ‘This is the first show I've ever done’, he is said to have commented, ‘where taxpayers' money is being used to hang my pictures up rather than scrape them off.’ Indeed, Bristol has had a ‘love-hate’ relationship with Banksy since he started stencilling on the city's walls in the 1990s. Criticism of his state-sponsored show was anticipated, but evaporated once the queues lengthened and the acclaim spread. However, to a few discerning observers and sensitive city-elders, the adversarial language rankled. It seemed to strike a jarring note in a city that had recently been short-listed for European City of Culture; where the visual arts, music, new media, film, and animation had been courted, sponsored and presented as the authentic face of a city that had largely re-invented itself from an aging port into an environmentally switched-on, culturally diverse, attractive city, hailed in 2009 as ‘England’s Best City to live In’. So why ‘versus’? Did the phrase cause irritation because it scratched at the ill-concealed wounds in Bristol’s civic memory?
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