In the summer of 2015 the graffity artist Banksy opened a theme park called Dismaland. One of the exhibits showed a sculpture of a big killer whale jumping out of a toilet bowl, through a hoop and into a plastic children’s swimming pool.
At first sight this sculpture may be regarded as a protest against the keeping of orcas in Seaworld. The sculpture, however, may also have a wider meaning, e.g. it may be a protest against the keeping of wild animals in zoo’s and circusses, against the keeping of animals in small, unnatural enclosures, and/or against animal performances involving apparently unnatural behaviours, or behaviours that seem to be designed primarily to please our human desire to make money or to control the natural world. All these aspects relate to concern for animal welfare, which in one way or another derives from the way we have organized our economy. Money is the driving force, not only bringing the pleasures of Disneyland and Seaworld, but also revealing the dark sides of our human nature and society including poverty, inequality, injustice and exploitation.
We can, however, take the interpretation as to what this piece of art may mean just one step further. For the jumping orca may not only represent other orcas or animals more generally, it may also represent the major part of humanity itself. Looking at the sculpture this way we see ourselves, from a perspective where one part of humanity, the hoop-holders, makes the other part of humanity do things (jumping through a hoop out of a toilet bowl) which are de facto degrading, all for the sake of making money or preserving power and control. The reader needs to see for him/herself as to whether this interpretation ‘fits’. I think this work is worth contemplating, because it has multiple layers of possible meanings. You can see an orca and pity it or admire it for its capabilities and grace; you can also see yourself, either holding the hoop or jumping.
Note: This is an attempt to explain the artist’s, i.e. Banksy’s, message through the Orca sculpture. It does not imply that I agree to it personally. That is an entirely different story, and it is irrelevant as well. I think it is worthwhile to try to understand the work, if only because it is potentially diruptive.