Contemporary images of girls, in light of the unfettered proliferation of child pornography on the Internet, are especially fraught. The visual arts are almost indistinguishable from marketing and advertising ploys (whether parody or not). Thus girls continue to be consciously used, not represented, in what we would like to call this most open and informative time.
One of the few contemporary avant-gardists’ who stands up for children comes from the world of graffiti art. Banksy is heroic in his staunch anti-fame position, retaining anonymity in a world of identity fetish. He employs the motif of the little girl in many of his works. Whether she cuddles a bomb or wears a gas mask, Banksy’s girls are unashamedly meant to be disturbing through the contrast of their cuteness and embodied innocence with the situations they are drawn within.
Girl with Umbrella is a site specific work located on a wall in New Orleans. While the image is a relatively overt referenced to Hurricane Katrina, it still retains multiple layers of meaning. Some have described the metaphor as the umbrella as a failed government, which instead of protecting its citizens from disaster, it allowed them to be destroyed. With Banksy’s clear anti-establishment stance, this is the likely meaning. Yet there are still questions.
Firstly, it is a little white girl holding the umbrella — why? Do we feel more likely to want to save her with this appearance? Or is this just a convention because all of Banksy’s little girls look this way? She reaches out into the dry space outside the umbrella glancing upwards. Does she realize it is better not to be underneath the oppressive mechanism that is meant to shield, but instead abuses? Or is she waiting to be rescued?
Whether or not in the context of New Orleans, this little girl appears to be a victim of abuse or neglect from those who are sworn to protect her, be it her family, society or government.