Ideal location for rebellious artists, Moyses Hall served for many years as a local gaol. It was where the Red Barn murderer was held: his death mask is still to be seen, as are many of the grisly relics of the days of public executions. Two hundred years ago the likes of Banksy would have faced the same fate.
Today, however, Banksy, Tracey Emin, Grayson Perry and company have not one but three exhibitions of their work in Suffolk. The first recently opened at Moyses Hall, the others will be in Newmarket and Haverhill. If ticket sales for the first are replicated elsewhere it will be a very successful series.
Banksy caused quite a stir when he toured the East of England. Work left on walls in the unlikely town of Lowestoft gave a spur to local development. A second crossing of the river is underway to ease congestion and house prices are already rising. There are some very old buildings in the town, With TLC they will soon become highly desirable. The First Light Festival, celebrating Lowestoft’s status as where the sunrise in first seen in England was a great success.
To the current exhibition: passing the permanent display, fascinating in itself, and trying not to gaze too long on the 12th Century building, we came to “Sandcastle Boy”, justly made famous by its arrival in Lowestost but infamous by its removal from the building it first adorned. It is a splendid opening to any exhibition and says much about the iconoclastic determination of the graffiti artists.
Posts also feature strongly in the exhibition, and a trio of David Bowie examples stare up and across the stairs. Jokes at royal expense are bound to raise hackles – it will be interesting to see what happens to the like in Newmarket – and of courseonce it would have meant a traitor’s death. Today we hope it can be seen as a mild joke, perhaps less than the “Not my king” posters that at first attracted the police but in Edinburgh recently not even raised eyebrows. In an adjoining room are American works in the pop=art style such as “I tried to drown my sorrows but the … can swim.”
Graffiti can also celebrate, as in the juxtaposoition of a cudgel-wielding policeman and a morris dancer, reminiscent of the Prague students who converted Soviet tank weapons into vases by “planting” cut flowers in them. Nearer to hagiography is the poster of President Zelenskiy in a patriotic t-shirt; closer to the Prague student is the girl facing a bear
Nobody will call this high art, least of all the artists, but it has a point to make in a way that invite people to think about the world we live in. It is well worth exhibiting and well worth the admission price.