The happiest place on earth has found its evil twin: a place where Cinderella never makes it to the ball, where families are shuffled through metal detectors upon entrance, and a ruinous Sleeping Beauty’s castle marks a place where dreams don’t come true. Marked as “the UK’s most disappointing new visitor attraction”, Dismaland opened to the public on Saturday, August 22 after months of planning and secretive construction. This satiric exhibit is the brainchild of none other than the art world’s favorite street artist, Banksy, who is known for his political commentary in the form of controversial graffiti. Banksy’s characteristically stencil-type form is so valued that some cities have covered his work in plastic cases to prevent any damage. The ever-elusive Banksy has quite outdone himself with Dismaland, collaborating with 50 artists from 17 different countries to present the grim parody of “the happiest place on Earth.”
The bemusement park is located in Weston-super-mare, where Banksy used to frequent as a child. The locals were told that the swimming pool complex was going to be a movie set, in order to keep the project secret. The iconic Sleeping Beauty’s castle is half demolished, surrounded by a lake of green water with a strange sculpture of a warped Ariel from “The Little Mermaid”. Emotionless and completely unenthusiastic employees greet the visitors as they embark on an interactive exhibit featuring thought-provoking works that critique today’s problematic society. Countering Disneyland’s efforts to provide a happy and magical escape from the real world, Banksy offers an area infused with harsh imagery to provoke discussion.
Paintings by other collaborators show various scenes that show the dichotomy between reality and the imaginary. Paco Pomet’s painting depicts cookie monster riding in a car with armed terrorists, a merry-go-round with a sculpture of a butcher, signifying Britain’s horse meat scandal, and a boat game symbolizing the horrific migrant boat crisis. These dark works fill the park, covering topics from Sea World’s orca issue to the problems with media and celebrity culture. Banksy seems to be showing a type of disapproval for Walt Disney and its efforts to sugar-coat life. The artists understand that only the privileged class can afford to attend Disneyland and take part in the magic and fantasy of the theme park. This culture of happy endings and fairy-tales is subverted by Dismaland’s depressing, but real, environment.
Wellesley College has had its own taste of controversy of art installations, drawing back to the exhibition of “The Sleepwalker.” The arguments for and against the display of the sculpture made international news. Students and professors on either side disagreed over questions of as what we can accept as art, and at what point art takes things too far. Ultimately, the sculpture remained, and as ridiculous as the controversy over “The Sleepwalker” was, it was effective in inciting a discussion over the purpose and symbolism of the work. In some ways, Dismaland does the same thing. While Disney has flourished, feeding off of the inner child inside us all, Banksy provokes an interesting and necessary conversation about real world issues that we usually try to avoid. Dismaland is a brilliant and creative idea that comes close to challenging the Disney empire and has drawn thousands of visitors daily to view and think about the many pieces on display. Effective works of art promote discussion, and Banksy, as always, hasn’t disappointed.
Photo courtesy of Creative Commons
Michelle Lee ‘17 is the Arts Editor studying English and Art History. In her free time you can find her at the museum, watching ‘50s movies, listening to classic rock, or helping her sisters survive high school. She can be reached at email@example.com.