Satire and International Relations: ‘Turf War’ by Banksy

Photo courtesy of MyArtBroker.

Photo courtesy of MyArtBroker.

Andre Kim '25, Guest Writer

We have a portrait of Winston Churchill, who was a former British Prime Minister and one of the 20th century’s most important political figures. There is a slight change: he was painted with a green mohican hairstyle. Turning a hero of Britain into a delinquent, Banksy created a huge sensation through giving a little trim of his haircut. 

Some might have said that this artwork is a mockery to a hero who led Britain to triumph against the Axis Powers in World War II. Some might have thought that this is just trivial street art, or an act of vandalism that needs to be erased. However, I would like to share about how I see this artwork. 

This is satire of world history in the 19th and 20th century, especially targeted to the Western Powers expanding colonies throughout Asia, the Pacific Islands, West Indies, and Africa. 

In these regions, conflicts over colonies and territories by Western Powers did not rest at all. Numerous colonial wars like the Opium Wars and Boer Wars seem to reflect the desire of the European leaders struggling to win a more favorable world order, national wealth, or military power. The greed to become a global hegemony eventually reached its peak in World War I and World War II. 

After two World Wars, countries that were under Western Powers’ colonization slowly started to gain independence. However, the spread of economic neocolonialism, emergence of ethnic, religious, and political conflicts due to borders set by Western Powers followed up. 

In my International Relations class from last semester, the paradigm called ‘realism’ in this study represents what’s being discussed above. States are the central actors in international politics, rather than their citizens or international organizations. 

Even though we have the international organization called the UN, their statements or rulings of the World Court are not legally binding. Because each nation has sovereignty, international organizations cannot force nations to comply with particular rulings or statements. Because there is no higher authority to limit the state’s behavior, international politics is ‘anarchic,’ similar to the lawless zone. States also act rationally to achieve their own interests, and most importantly, they seek power to ensure their survival. 

In this sense, we can understand why Banksy made Winston Churchill look like a delinquent or a mob with green mohawk hair. The way Britain and Western Powers fighting over colonies looks similar to mobs or gangsters fighting over certain territories or positions of power. 

International politics have always been a ‘lawless zone,’ and leaders of powerful nations put their national interests first over others, similar to the boss of mobsters putting their interests (powerful political influence or lucrative business) against citizens’ safety. They probably needed this strategy to keep their power strong to survive on the street. 

Living in the lawless zone, every single nation must find its way to survive. Either being targeted by a mob or making a deal with a mob is up to the state’s choice.

Overall, Banksy’s artwork ‘Turf War’ reminds me of realism in the IR curriculum and historical references, but also reflects the cruel and hard-boiled state behaviors deriving from national interests.