Surprise ‘thank you’ event for Banksy held in Bethlehem

"He has helped our economy with ‘alternative’ tourism"

A photo exhibition of Banksy‘s artwork has opened in Bethlehem, Palestine as a surprise ‘thank you’ to the artist for helping diversify tourism in the city.

Photographs of 20 pieces of Banksy’s artwork in Palestine have been displayed in the city’s Manger Square to give thanks to the anonymous British street artist.

Event coordinator Yamen Elabed said in a video message to the artist on Tuesday (August 18): “Banksy always surprises us and today I want to surprise him.”

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Elabed said he organised the surprise showcase “to show Banksy that we are grateful for the support” [via The Guardian].

“I just want the message of thanks to reach Banksy…he has helped our economy with ‘alternative’ tourism.”

Over in Gaza, local artists drew the words “Thank you Banksy” in sand to coordinate with the event.

Last month Banksy auctioned three paintings for £2.2m in London and donated the proceeds to a hospital in Bethlehem.

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Elabed added that around 300 people visited the exhibition and that each one was given a free face mask decorated with a Banksy print. Visitors were all local, owing to the fact that tourism is on hold during the coronavirus pandemic.

“This city relies on tourism. So many people are now out of a job, with the closing of hotels, souvenir shops, many restaurants, tour companies and a lack of work for tour guides like myself. We all are just waiting for tourism to return,” Elabed said.

Banksy’s first work appeared in Palestine 15 years ago. His The Walled Off hotel, which claims to offer the “worst view of any hotel in the world”, has attracted international guests since it was opened in 2017.

Ayoub Ali, who attended the exhibition, said Banksy’s work has helped bring more tourists to the area who are not only interested in it as a pilgrimage destination.

“They [tourists] only know Bethlehem is where Jesus was born, the Church of the Nativity – which I am proud of – but Banksy’s idea is also to see where there are 3 million Palestinians living, in the West Bank.”

In other news, last month Banksy debuted a coronavirus-themed artwork on the London Underground before it was accidentally removed by a cleaner. In June, he also shared an Instagram sketch which saw him comment on Bristol’s toppled statue of Edward Colston.

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