The many names given to this fence demonstrate the complex semantic relationship between the object itself, the subjects of its effect and those observing and affecting the interplay between them. It is alternatively a separation or security fence or wall in Hebrew. It is the Wall of Apartheid in Arabic. The BBC’s list of acceptable terms lists it, alternately, as “barrier”, “separation barrier” or “West Bank Barrier” to “avoid the political connotations” of the above terms.
Its building, continuing presence and oppression attracted a number of artists from around the globe, who began expressing themselves on it almost as soon as the first segment was erected in 2003, with Banksy beginning to paint on the wall in 2005, calling it “the ultimate activity holiday destination for graffiti writers”.
Nigel Perry, writing for Electronic Intifada, an independent online news publication that focuses on Palestinian issues, relates an anecdote about a design critic, Nathan Edelson, who contacted him in relation to an article about the aesthetics of the separation barrier in 2003, arguing that “the premise of my article is that one can argue about the desirability of a wall, and certainly where it runs, but if it is going to be built it should not be an aesthetic monstrosity.”. In the ensuing debate, Perry called into question the validity of that argument, countering that it was akin to “like arguing for nice faux painting on gas chamber walls or calling for Martha Stewart torture chamber bed sets.”. A long argument about the visuality of “prisons” and “art to serve the interests of what is a dictatorship for the 3.2 million Palestinians who didn't vote for the system that rules over them” ensued, ending with Edelson’s statement that “it is immoral to create any more ugliness than is absolutely necessary.”.
Enter Banksy, Blu, Faile and many other street artists and aspiring writers. They approached the wall as a space to produce art on, were, however, much more attuned to the political significance of their artistic expressions on that wall. In stead of painting “the cage a new color and watch the prisoners dance.”, the artwork refers to the nature of the fence as a spatial separation, sometimes of families, by playing with the context of the wall. Some artwork opens a trompe ل’oeil the land behind the wall, others reference other comparable barriers such as the Berlin Wall, and yet others show the effect that an enclosing barrier has on the population. Local reactions by Palestinians to the artwork vary from perceiving it as just being art to a feeling that the art highlights the friction and imprisonment imposed on them. One of the most related dialogues regarding the artwork on the wall is between an old Palestinian man who comments to the painting Banksy “You paint the wall, you make it look beautiful.”. Banksy thanks him, to which the old man replies “We don't want it to be beautiful, we hate this wall, go home.”
Writing in 2011, Robert Saunders remarks that “ Of the graffiti that contains text, more than 75% are in English, 13% are in European languages, and slightly less than 11% are in Arabic.” This indicates a shift from an internal communication to one that wants to reach a global audience, which Saunders calls “a shift from action to performance”, noting that “international- produced graffiti on the barrier further deterritorializes the Palestinians by inadvertently popularising the physical and symbolic place that has aided in their dispossession.”
The effect of internationally acclaimed street artists painting on the wall has certainly brought attention to the separation barrier. However, the effect of such solidarity is, in this case, not to demand the removal of the barrier, but rather make it a popular spot for visitors and tourists to express their support for the Palestinian cause and remove the agency of those they performatively support. If one were to take the case to the extreme hypothesis, the separation wall might be kept in place to preserve the artwork on it.
Parry, N. http://electronicintifada.net/content/well-known-uk-graffiti-artist-banksy-hacks-wall/5733; Sep.2005
Saunders, Robert R. - Anthropology News 03/2011- Whose Place is This Anyways; March 2011