Racist or Renegade? We tracked down street artist Banaanaa

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A spate of stencil art has appeared in St Kilda. You’ll be familiar with the images of a cloaked figure – a ninja or a muslim…. was it racist or funny…had Banksy visited our district?

We tracked down the culprit Banaanaa and got some answers.   

Your artwork has caused a stir in St Kilda over the past few months. The cloaked image in your graffiti has been construed as both a ninja and Muslim, the ambiguity confusing many. Some people have linked the imagery to the recent far-Right rally on the Foreshore, projecting racist undertones. Can you clear up your message?

I would like to say I’m not part of any movement. I don’t have any opinion on the far-Right rallies that have been broadcasted by the news. My artwork is purely about different cultures fitting into societies where there is a minority of opposing beliefs. The story of my Muslim woman is that she has moved to Australia and is trying her best to fit in. She stands there awkward and hopes to sink into the area she has been allocated to. She drinks western beverages and eats western food to adapt. But still, she feels awkward amongst the people she is surrounded by. The artwork isn’t meant to be taken seriously, it’s meant to make people laugh and hopefully see the irony of a Muslim girl amongst the large Jewish suburbs. I don’t believe in hate groups but I do agree with both sides of the protests. I just hope people can accept other cultures BUT also people from overseas adapting to our Australian culture. There needs to be a happy balance between everyone’s culture. Otherwise, we will always have divided cultures in Australia.

Why do think your work has been linked to the far-Right?

I actually didn’t know that my art had been linked to the far-Right. I guess my art confuses people. And people make their own minds up of what my girls are about.

How do you decide where to put your girls?

I walk around and look for areas that would be nice to paint. But I like to choose areas where it will be seen. But I have had a lot of my work painted over. For reasons unknown. I think my art offends some patrons.

Are there places that are out-of-bounds for some ethical code?

I won’t do my piece on existing artwork that is commissioned. I appreciate artists and their struggle to make a living. There is nothing worse than someone tagging over works of art. I get why people do tags, it’s them waving a flag saying they exist. I do this too in a way, but not on existing art.

Where in Melbourne would you most like to exhibit?

I would love to actually sell my art on canvas, get a studio and take my work off the streets. It would be awesome to exhibit at David Bromley’s exhibitions. I really love what he does for local artists. Then again I love the adrenaline from doing work on the streets. I surf, so my only outlet in the city is street art, so I might never stop unless Melbourne builds a Kelly Slater wave pool.

Can you talk about your Gatwick piece – was it a protest against gentrification and why the dog in the burqa?

I wasn’t too proud of the ones I did at the Gatwick, it wasn’t a protest. It was just a coincidence that I did it there the night before the rally. With the burqa dog, they say owners look like their dogs, which is true! So this owner looks like their dog. But if I knew that it was going to be seen as racist I wouldn’t have done it there. The reason I have the girl giving the finger was inspired by the old owners when they put up a poster of them giving the middle finger once they sold it.

Why do you only use one colour in your pieces?

I don’t always use one colour for my work, say for the sausages strapped to her I add reds and bananas are yellow. 

Are you part of a crew or a lone wolf?

I’m a lone wolf but I’ve had people come and join me who I get to keep watch and also paint for me. It’s a fun experience for my friends involved.

What drove you to choose stencil art as a medium?

I can’t remember why I got into stencil art, it was so long ago now. I think I used to stencil objects on my surfboards when I was younger. That’s probably what got me into it, it was so boring down the coast when the surf was crap. So I had to take up something to fill in the time.

Which other stencil artists do you identify with?

I love Czarnobyl, Nick Walker, Blek le Rat and Banksy. But they never inspired me to become a stencil artist. I’ve been doing it since I was in my early teens and I used to do way better work than what you see now. I’ll work on something more technical soon. The Muslim girls are so simple it actually bores me to do them now, I try my best to come up with different gestures now.

How long does it take to spray a piece?

It takes me exactly 24 seconds. But if it’s windy more like a minute. Bloody wind blows the stencil and makes the paint blow everywhere.

You seem quite brazen and provocative with your choice of locations, repeatedly hitting Wall 280 cafe – don’t you like their coffee?

Wall 280, they keep painting over my girl there. I think it’s a rad little spot. I don’t hate their coffee, I frequent there all the time!

You’re branching out and selling your art. Are you courting danger here – couldn’t you be caught?

I honestly don’t think anyone will buy my art. I didn’t have much money that day I took my art to the St Kilda market. If I sold something I would have been so happy, but I didn’t. Which I’m cool with. I did have an angry Muslim man come up to me and ask why I’m doing this. I explained myself, but he kept asking why so I had to walk off in the end. I don’t see anything wrong with selling art, I wasn’t doing anything illegal.

Do have another characters/styles on the cards?

I do have other work that I’ll do soon but I’ll wait for this to get boring. It’s pretty exciting doing this art, it’s addictive. All I do now is stare at walls around town and look at other people’s work. We live in a pretty good area with heaps of talented street artists. It’s such an inspiring place to live and I hope people don’t take my art the wrong way. It’s all just for a bit of a laugh.

@ban_naa_naa 

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