Art historian and curator Dr Gavin Grindon has helped Banksy create a Museum of Colonialism at the heart of The Walled Off Hotel which the artist has opened in Bethlehem.
Gavin, from the Centre for Curatorial Studies in the School of Philosophy and Art History at Essex, said: “I co-curated the exhibition with Banksy and a team of Israelis and Palestinians. The museum was prepared in secret, but now that it is open we hope it will become part of the local community.”
Exhibits within the Museum include a Victorian-style mechanical automaton depicting the signing of the Balfour Declaration with more material being added in the coming weeks.
Gavin previously worked with Banksy on the deliberately depressing theme park Dismaland in Weston-Super-Mare in 2015 - helping to create the Museum of Cruel Designs.
This new venture in the Middle East offers views of graffiti-strewn concrete from every room.
The Walled Off Hotel is a three-storey immersive piece of art and also a fully functioning hostelry. Situated just five metres inside the huge security wall that separates Israel from the Palestinian territories, it enjoys direct sunlight for just 25 minutes a day.
“It has the worst view of any hotel in the world,” says owner Banksy. He has secretly converted a former pottery workshop under the shadow of an army watchtower into "a hotel, tea shop, home-made museum with en-suite art gallery and graffiti supplies store - an all-inclusive vandals resort.” Many of the bedrooms and hallways have been decorated by Banksy with his trademark stencils in what constitutes his largest new body of work for many years. He has even designed some of the menu items.
In acknowledgment of Britain’s historic role in the region, the hotel is decorated to resemble an English gentleman’s club from colonial times. High Tea is served in fine china to the sound of tinkling on a baby grand piano. However, the refined ambience has been brought right up to date - the oil painted seascapes are awash with refugee’s lifejackets, statues choke on tear gas fumes and cherubs fall to earth starved of breath.
Banksy said: “It’s exactly one hundred years since Britain took control of Palestine and started re-arranging the furniture - with chaotic results. I don’t know why, but it felt like a good time to reflect on what happens when the United Kingdom makes a huge political decision without fully comprehending the consequences.”
Guest rooms vary from the luxurious Presidential suite equipped with hot tub and roof garden, to the budget option - a room full of bunkbeds salvaged from an army barracks. Other guest quarters will be decorated by visiting artists, which so far include Sami Musa from Ramallah and French-Canadian Dominique Petrin.
Banksy claims the adjoining home-made museum is "the world’s only visitor attraction dedicated to the biography of a single concrete structure". It is aimed at explaining the wall to the many coach parties of tourists who rush through it every day on their way to Bethlehem’s holy sites. The museum contains state-of-the-art audio visual presentations and was produced in association with Gavin.
Situated on the first floor is a brand new art gallery exclusively dedicated to work made in the region. Its curator Ismal Duddera says it marks a significant milestone that will “open an entirely new chapter of Arab art in general and Palestinian art in particular”.
The Walled Off Hotel is described as "an open-hearted community resource" that offers a warm welcome to people from all sides of the conflict and across the world. It has been created and financed by Banksy and is not allied to any political party or pressure group. Situated in ‘area C’ it is open to Israelis, unlike many parts of the West Bank.
Banksy calls it “a three-storey cure for fanaticism, with limited car parking.”
The hotel sits in the middle of the most heavily painted stretch of the barrier, an area which Banksy has previously decorated extensively. Ironically the only amenity on the block not operated by the artist is the ‘Banksy shop’ next door.
“Walls are hot right now, but I was into them long before Trump made it cool,” Banksy said
The opening party featured live performances by renowned local pianist Ramzi Shomali and Sir Elton John. “I don’t know much about piano players; I could only think of one. So, I wrote Elton John an email - and rather amazingly he agreed to play,” said Banksy.
Elton John commented; “As a fan of the artist Banksy, I was honoured when asked to perform for the launch of The Walled Off Hotel. I have long believed in the unifying power of music. It can break down barriers and bring together people from all walks of life. With my music, I have always appreciated being welcomed by, and enjoyed performing for, audiences from all over the world. The Walled Off Hotel, like my music, is welcome to people from all sides of the conflict and across the world. Like Banksy, I am not allying myself with any political party or pressure group. I am simply embracing the opportunity to bring people together through my music.”
The Walled Off offers easy access to Jerusalem, the Church of the Nativity and the Dead Sea. It accepts all major credit cards, is safe, secure and open to international visitors without a visa. The hotel is open to non-residents every day from Sunday, 11 March, between 11am - 10pm. Coach parties by appointment. Bookings will be taken via the hotel website from Saturday, 11 March 2017 and the hotel opens to overnight guests from 20 March, 2017.
Banksy said: “My accountant was worried some people will be too scared to travel to the West Bank, but then I remind him - for my last show they spent a whole day in Weston-super-Mare.”
Find out more at: www.walledoffhotel.com