We all know, or at least somewhat know, Banksy. The elusive wall-tagger has been making waves throughout the art industry since the late 1990s and has made a bigger impact on society than many other contemporary artists despite no one knowing what he looks like. From his perch of anonymity Banksy has been putting up whole exhibits and even put together a documentary entitled Exit Through the Gift Shop, nominated for an Academy Award for best documentary in 2011.
Today he’s turned his talents elsewhere, to Palestine in the little town of Bethlehem, in a move both surprising and, well, almost expected of him.
Banksy designed a hotel.
The Walled Off Hotel is among the edgiest hotels to have sprung in the Middle East in recent years. Opened back in 2017, it is located along 182 Caritas Street, Bethlehem, and is a rather eclectic montage of culture and current events. Aside from the accommodations that one would expect, The Walled Off Hotel is host to a gallery, a museum and a book store featuring titles on the hotel’s namesake and favorite topic of interest: The Israeli West Bank wall, an apartheid wall that has caused grief to many Palestinians since 2002.
The hotel’s exterior is unassuming enough, although a little on the unusual side given that its façade has been painted on in true Banksy fashion. Once you step into the hotel, however, it’s another matter entirely. Everything from the piano bar to the museum to the book shop, and even up to the rooms, is decorated in Banksy’s signature dire protest art. Pastoral paintings hanging on walls also show life vests washed ashore and a scared Jesus with a laser pointer trained on his head. Installations include a couple of fish figures, presumably lovers, separated by the glass boundaries of their fish bowls. The gallery consists mainly of paraphernalia from the conflict ongoing along the West Bank, a grim reminder to curious guests of the region’s current struggle.
A secret door leads to the rooms upstairs. The rooms come in different varieties, each with its own not-so-subtle social commentary etched across its walls. The Presidential suites are comically gaudy, designed to the likings of your typical tyrannical dictator, while the Budget suites are decked out, comfortably and somewhat ironically enough, with surplus from an Israeli army base. The Scenic and Artist suites, considerably less claustrophobic than the Budget suites, promise a particularly jarring view. Pop open a window and you’re brought face-to-face with that very thing the hotel exists to protest against – the apartheid wall, the “ugliest view in the world,” as the hotel itself has labelled it.
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Given the history of this part of the world and the ongoing conflict that continues to cause strife, it’s no surprise that the likes of Banksy have come over to lend their talents. The Walled Off Hotel is the enigmatic artists’ latest endeavour, and with it he appears to be making yet another statement by giving guests a glimpse of what it’s like to literally live under the shadow of the wall. If you’re interested in seeing it for yourself, check out www.walledoffhotel.com – it’s a bit pricey, with rooms ranging from as low as $60 a night to as high as $900, so be ready to shell out quite a bit of cash. Head to Palestine and let Banksy’s little gallery sober you to the troubled realities of this corner of the world.
Photographs from @walledoffhotel on Instagram