What happened when I took six children to ‘The World of Banksy’ exhibition

Gemma White visited ‘The World of Banksy’ at Mall of the Emirates with six children aged between 2 and 9, to find out if children can appreciate art

It’s not until about half an hour into our visit that I get my first eye roll. Surprisingly, it does not come from one of my 8-going-on-18 companions. Rather, it comes from a visitor who tuts at us in the room set up to resemble The Walled Off Hotel, Banksy’s statement-making Palestinian guesthouse with its “world’s worst view” of the separation wall.

It appears they object to the children laying in the bed to better observe “Pillow Fight”, Banksy’s work showing a Palestinian and Israeli soldier engaged in the old, children’s favourite, bedtime game.

The idea of someone getting uptight about anyone getting up close to a Banksyis kind of absurd. After all, his art adorns factory doors and abandoned cars. It’s found on school walls and segregating walls. This is not art to be quiet around. It lives its life as we do, as children do, beside railroads, motorways and bombsites.

“Relax,” I want to say about the Ikea mattress they’re lying on, which isn't part of the artwork. “They’re learning about the absurdity of conflict, not desecrating Tracey Emin’s bed.”

In fact, I’m half tempted to roll around in it myself.

Scroll through the gallery above for some of the pieces the six mini art critics enjoyed most ...

From protesters to parliament: refreshingly accessible and unstuffy art

Banksy. Gemma White
Ethan, 4, Fox, 5, and Caspian, 2, ponder Banksy's 'Devolved Parliament'. Courtesy Gemma White

Do children appreciate art? It was with this question in mind that I took my three children, Indiana, 8, Fox, 5, and Caspian, 2, to The World of Banksy – The Immersive Experience, an exhibition at Mall of the Emirates, Dubai, along with their friends, Harriet, 9, Luke, 7, and Ethan, 4.

The 120-piece exhibition is refreshingly accessible and unstuffy, meaning no behatted guards shushing you and moving you along, and no highbrow descriptions written to make you feel like your reaction to the works is wrong.

There’s plenty for children to enjoy about the British graffiti artist’s work, including the chimps, rats and satirical pieces he’s famous for. The Grim Reaper lurks in his own spooky room, alongside floating heart balloons and protesters hurling bouquets (The Flower Thrower), an image my six were quick to emulate.

Many works, including The Bethlehem Wall are accompanied by embellishments that bring the art off the walls, such as the red rose petals littering the ground around Waiting in Vain, which the children liked.

“I think he’s taking flowers to the prettiest queen,” says Fox, of the piece. “I feel happy because that boy is going to marry the girl.”

Piles of sand, rocks and the sort of human debris that accumulates over decades have been added to give a deeper context to the room dedicated to the Western Wall and the numerous statements Banksy has stencilled on it over the years. My young companions appreciated the 3D vibe.

‘The art is cool, colourful and sometimes scary’

Banksy. Gemma White
Indiana, 8, beside one of Banksy's most recognisable images: 'Girl With Balloon'. Courtesy Gemma White

Banksy’s is not art to be hidden in billionaire’s vaults or encased behind bulletproof glass. It’s art you live your life alongside, art that can be touched. It's art that’s as entrenched in the fabric of city life as traffic and trash.

You can think what you like about his manifesto, but you cannot deny the works are public and democratic, put there for everyone and anyone to enjoy. Something the children seemed to pick up on.

“The art looked like it was about something that happened in life, or something Banksy thought of that would be good to paint as a picture,” says Indiana of the exhibition. Luke says: “I like that some of them are really cool, some of them are colourful and some of them are scary.”

Naturally, Banksy being Banksy, the themes are big, inviting plenty of conversation and discussion.

“Some of it is making me feel sad because one of the pictures is called Follow Your Dreams, but it says ‘Cancelled’ across it, because it’s getting harder and harder to find your dreams,” says Harriet.

And for those still developing their critical thinking, there are plenty of cool chimps to look at.

Me: “What do you think of this monkey, do you like it?”

Caspian: “Yeah.”

The room that houses Happy Choppers and Trolleys, Banksy’s modern twists on oil paintings, has a big wall in the middle, around which the younger children chased one another towards the end of the visit when their attention spans began waning at about the 45-minute mark.

I left, corralling children like cats, with the realisation that the question isn’t: “Do children appreciate art?”, but rather: “Do we allow children to appreciate art?”

The World of Banksy’s accessible, thought-provoking realism in such an open, welcoming and relaxed space certainly allows that.

Eye rollers, beware.

The World of Banksy – The Immersive Experience runs until Wednesday, June 30, and is open daily from 10am-10pm. Time slots are for one hour. Tickets cost Dh75 for adults, Dhs45 for children, and are available at dubai.platinumlist.net

Updated: May 15, 2021 05:05 PM

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