‘Banksy: Birth of an Icon’ opened on 17th October 2023 at the Georgian Museum of Fine Arts in Georgia’s capital Tbilisi, to mark the fifth anniversary of the venue. Curated by Steve Lazarides, the exhibition features Banksy originals as well as a series of Lazarides’s previously unseen photographs and film footage that document Banksy’s ascent from graffiti artist tagging walls on the streets of Bristol in 1997, to globally acclaimed superstar artists whose creations fetch sky-high prices at auction.
Lazarides has displayed large-format photographs of his prints in chronological order to emphasise the artistic development of Banksy, and the exhibition culminates with a selection of original Banksy works from the private collection of Lord Edward Churchill. Lazarides has also researched the Georgian street art scene and included a section dedicated to talented local artists Gagosha, Mishiko Sulakauri, Semichka, Koska and Sick’N Tired, curated by Elene Kapanadze. The featured creatives are actively working in Tbilisi’s streets, and their works related to the museum bear witness to their hallmark styles and impact on Georgian culture.
Culturalee interviewed Steve Lazarides ahead of the Banksy exhibition’s opening in Tbilisi. Director of Photography Sky Sharrock made the accompanying film.
Lee: This is the first time Banksy has had a museum show, and you’ve curated and are exhibiting photos you took documenting a 12-year period of Banksy’s art. How did the exhibition at the Georgian Museum of Fine Art come about?
Steve Lazarides: My collaboration with the museum of Georgian Fine Art came about through Lord Churchill. He was loaning them his collection of Banksy’s, and he suggested they come and see me about curating it. My idea was that there’s no curation around 10 pieces, and that spurred me on to put on a show that I’ve been wanting to put on for many years, which is ‘Banksy: Birth of an Icon’, which documents his rise to fame between 1997 and 2006. The museum have been absolutely fantastic, they’ve given me carte blanche to do whatever I wanted here. No one said no, whatever crazy idea they came up with, they dived in headfirst.
Culturalee: How would you describe the narrative of this exhibition?
Steve Lazarides: Well the museum gave me almost 20,000 square feet to play with, so that gave me a lot of time to think. So, basically I went back and did what I should have done at the beginning, which was to edit it on a timeline, which I’ve never done before, and it was fascinating. I know these pictures inside out, and to see them lined up time wise, and to see how much he did at certain periods of time, and how he got to be an icon, was amazing.
That’s why it goes from 2006, which was basically the advent of camera phones, and also when his ‘Barely Legal’ show finished, when he went from being nationally famous to internationally famous. At that time you had the explosion of camera phones, which effectively bought the ‘citizen photographer’ about and made me totally redundant!
The narrative is very much taken from my perspective. It’s through my lens, with me having a front row seat. This isn’t me describing Banksy or giving any massive insights from my point of view, other than through photography. I was asked to describe the paintings, which I refused to do. I said that’s been the viewer and the piece of art. So, I could only really do it from my perspective, and so all the text is written in the first person, describing what it was like to be there while these things were happening, and to root it in an era.
I’m the curator – as much as I hate that word – creator and narrator for this show. It’s 90% full of my documentary photography from my time with Banksy. And there’s an offering of Banksy originals here as well, from the collection of Lord Churchill.
Culturalee: What is it about this exhibition that makes it different to other Banksy exhibitions?
Steve Lazarides: It’s the first anyone’s done a show like this with photography, let alone the Banksy stuff. It’s an homage to him really, from me. It’s a very intimate thing. I was the only one was there a lot of the time, so it’s impossible for another show like this to exist. These are the only pictures in existence of this time. I’ve never used my photography to this extent, taking over 7 of the 10 galleries here. It’s almost about the journey more than the result at the end.
Culturalee: The exhibition features some video footage. Is this being exhibited for the first time, and do you think this will give visitors more of an insight into Banksy’s process?
Steve Lazarides: Yes the video footage here is the full footage that I shot of him putting the painting into Tate Britain. So it was his first incursion into a museum where he put something up. It’s a 5 minute 53 second; all in one shot take, of Banksy putting his piece up in the Tate.
Culturalee: You’ve featured several Georgian Artists in the exhibition. How did you find the artists?
Steve Lazarides: Banksy had a stencil he put on the streets called ‘Designated Graffiti Area’. So whenI was asked if I could bring Georgian artists into the show, and I knew that painting was coming, I said bring me 10 artists and I’ll choose what I want to exhibit on the wall. It’s about working with the local people and showcasing where they are with the art movement.
The street art here reminded me of the stuff I love from the 1970s. It means something here. Whereas in the West it’s turned into a commercial mess, here it’s stencils of fallen heroes and it’s got a visceral energy to it that you just don’t get in other places, only at other points in time. People are going to the streets here to put out a message, they’re trying to say something, and I haven’t seen people try to say something for a long time.
‘BanksY: Birth of an Icon’ is at the Georgian museum of fine arts, 7 Shota Rustaveli Avenue, Tbilisi, Georgia until13 February, 2024: