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Review: Dismaland


A view of Dismaland. Photo by Iain Walker.


One of the stewards, wearing Mickey Mouse ears. Photo by Iain Walker.

Everything about Dismaland, Banksy’s parody of Disney-style theme parks, was so utterly miserable that I couldn’t help but laugh: the burnt-out ice cream van, the bizarre but thoroughly mediocre amusements, the tired, downbeat background surf music. The ‘carefully constructed chaos’, as described by the BBC, was technically brilliant and extremely enjoyable.

Stewards, dressed in pink hi-vis jackets and Mickey Mouse ears, kept dead-pan straight faces whilst gloomily interacting with visitors. Even the location was perfectly bleak – a derelict lido, out-of-use since 2000, at the edge of Weston-super-Mare, an occasionally depressing seaside town that’s been in decline for decades. Not that the locals minded – the influx of visitors brought an extra £20m to the local economy.

Banky’s sarcastic style of satire shone through best in a gallery that ‘comprised the finest collection of contemporary art ever assembled in a North Somerset seaside town’, which featured over fifty international artists, as well as in the ‘model village’ overrun by riots. Then there was the crumbling castle, inside of which a video of the ‘happily ever after’ ending of Cinderella was juxtaposed with a crashed pumpkin coach surrounded by paparazzi.


An exhibition at Dismaland, alluding to SeaWorld. Photo by Iain Walker.

As your cultured correspondent knows well, art always has a purpose, and here Banksy didn’t attempt to mask his deep discontent with the state of society. Dismaland went out of its way to criticise everything from SeaWorld to the Gulf of Mexico oil spills (visitors could play a round of ‘Mini Gulf’ on a course littered with leaking oil barrels) to payday loan companies like Wonga and the demonisation of immigrants and ‘chavs’. One of Banksy’s main targets was the state, with an entire exhibition devoted to police misconduct and the creeping infringement of our civil liberties. It’s easy to see how his anti-authority politics might be excessive for some, but he has a point to make and he makes it well.

As I ‘exited through the gift shop’ I admired the range of tacky, overpriced T-shirts and souvenirs on offer – one final jab at Disney’s consumer culture. Ironically, Dismaland had its own happy ending of sorts, the timber from the dismantled ‘bemusement park’ was sent to Calais to build shelters for migrants. I’m sure there’s a message in that somewhere.

Sadly, Dismaland was only a temporary exhibition, but if you want to find out more or even look inside, the BBC has a tour and there are more videos on YouTube.