Rage, Flower Thrower by Banksy

Banksy

Rage, Flower Thrower, 2005, Mural, Beit Sahour, Palestinian Territories, Eddie Gerald / Alamy Stock Photo

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The Banquet

Commentary by

Banksy, the Bristol graffiti master whose real identity remains unknown, constantly surprises the world through poignant and provocative murals that instantly go viral.

The 2005 Rage, Flower Thrower is among his most famous. Spray painted on a wall in the Palestinian Territories with the use of a stencil, it is a subversive call to peace.

With a balaclava drawn over his face, the young protester is shown leaning back, as though braced to hurl a Molotov cocktail. But instead of a weapon, he wields a flower bouquet, the only coloured element in this otherwise monochrome work. We expect an act of aggression—all other elements of the mural suggest imminent violence—but instead we are offered a call to peace.

A similarly subversive gesture is found in 2 Kings 6:18–23. The Syrians’ attack is miraculously thwarted. At Elisha’s request, God blinds Aram’s army. Confused and humiliated, they are led by the prophet to Samaria. As prisoners of war, they would not normally be put to death, but their fate nevertheless hangs in the balance when the King of Israel asks with sinister excitement ‘Shall I kill them? Shall I kill them?’ (2 Kings 6:21).

Elisha issues an emphatic ‘no’. Instead of a retaliatory bloodbath, he urges nothing less than that a banquet be thrown for the enemy. For a moment, a subversive gesture of hospitality breaks the logic of retaliation.

The cycle of violence continues after this episode. But in this scene, for just a little while, hostilities cease. The unexpected feast to which the Syrian army is treated prefigures the day when Molotov cocktails will truly morph into flowers, when ‘swords will be beaten into ploughshares’ (Isaiah 2:4 NRSV), and violence will be turned into conviviality when ‘the LORD of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wines’ (Isaiah 25:6 NRSV).