Mind the Art: Walled Off Hotel by Banksy Opens in Bethlehem

Banksy Walled Off Hotel

Overlooking the controversial barrier wall separating Palestinian and Israeli populations, Banksy latest project is the Walled Off Hotel; a fully functional art hotel aiming to bring more tourists – and dialogue – to the West Bank.

An experiential installation, a place to stay, or a political statement? Banksy’s latest project is all of the above, and more.  Recently opened in Bethlehem, the Walled Off Hotel may well be the elusive street artist’s most ambitious project to date.

To say the view is unconventional would be a huge understatement. Nearly every window of the hotel billed as having the “Worst View in the World” looks out over the infamous concrete wall that separates Israel and Palestine, while its upper floors stand level with the Israeli watch towers looming over parts of Bethlehem. Highly controversial (the International Court of Justice ruled it was built illegally), and divisive in every sense, the wall is either a vital security measure or an instrument of apartheid, depending on who you talk to. What is undeniable, however, is the dramatic impact it has had on the lives of the local population.

The wall is covered in messages and political graffiti, including a series of murals by Banksy himself. One of his most recent additions, a girl being pulled aloft by balloons, is just steps from the entrance of the Walled Off.

Once inside, the view is no less fascinating. Banksy and his team worked in total secrecy over 14 months to transform the building into a fully functional hotel as well as an immersive art experience, its public spaces and individual guest rooms filled with site-specific new artwork by Banksy himself and other artists,

According to its website, the Walled Off Hotel is an independent venture, not aligned with any political movement or pressure group, and although it was designed, set up and financed by Banksy, he will not be making a profit on it; it will be operated by the local community as an autonomous business, with profits going back into the local economy.

Banksy’s connection with the area runs over a decade, and his artwork here has created tourism in its own right. One of the aims of the hotel is to give a much-needed boost to Bethlehem’s economy by attracting more foreign visitors, while raising awareness of the realities of life surrounded by the wall.

Another objective is to inspire conversation between people from all sides of the conflict, offering a safe place for meeting and open discussion. Israelis are officially banned from visiting Bethlehem, but the hotel is in a part of the West Bank that is under Israeli military control, which means both Israelis and Palestinians are able to visit – and the Walled Off team hope there will be Israeli civilians among the guests.

The hotel has 9 rooms and one suite, ranging from the $30 per night no-frills Budget Barracks, outfitted with surplus items from an Israeli army barracks (amenities include a shared bathroom, personal locker and safe, and complimentary earplugs) to the kitschy luxury of the $965 per night Presidential Suite, “equipped with everything a corrupt head of state would need”, including a four-person plunge bath made from a bullet-riddled water tank, home cinema, roof garden, and tiki bar.

Each of the scenic rooms is ensuite, and equipped with wifi, fridge, radio, personal safe, air conditioning, and original art. So far, Banksy, Sami Musa and Dominique Petrin have customised guest rooms, with more rooms to follow – Banksy is offering all-expense paid residencies to a select few artists to customise the hotel rooms.

Residents also have access to a bookshop dedicated to books about the wall, and the Wall*Mart, an art and graffiti supplies store for guests who want to add their own message to the barrier.

The hotel also houses a number of areas open to non-residents, including an art gallery, museum, and piano bar.

The gallery hosts a permanent collection showcasing the work of Palestinian artists, curated by the historian and critic Dr. Housni Alkhateeb Shehada. An adjoining space is dedicated to temporary shows by upcoming artists.

The museum, curated in association with Essex University professor Dr. Gavin Grindon, is dedicated to the troubled history of the region and the wall. It contains an animated historical timeline, military pornography, an original beach sculpture from Gaza, and state-of-the-art audio visual presentations, including excerpts from the Oscar-nominated ‘Five Broken Cameras’ – one of which is on display in all its bullet-damaged glory. The exhibition is careful not to pick a side in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but attempts to tell every side of the story of the wall impartially, and provide context which will enable visitors to unravel it for themselves.

At the entrance to the museum sits a wax figure of former British Foreign Secretary Lord Arthur Balfour, of the most controversial figures in the conflict. The 2017 hotel opening coincides with the centenary of the Balfour Declaration, the 1917 statement expressing the British government’s support in establishing a Jewish homeland in British-mandate Palestine, which helped pave the way for the creation of Israel. In the press release for the hotel’s opening Banksy states:

“It’s exactly one hundred years since Britain took control of Palestine and started re-arranging the furniture – with chaotic results.

I don’t know why, but it felt like a good time to reflect on what happens when the United Kingdom makes a huge political decision without fully comprehending the consequences.”

The colonial-themed piano bar, features a remote controlled mechanical baby grand programmed with a bespoke score of original work from Massive Attack’s 3D, Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, Flea, Hans Zimmer, and more. A different pre-recorded “concert” will play back every night, against a backdrop of Banksy artworks that include vandalised paintings and statues shrouded in tear gas fumes.

For more information about the Walled Off Hotel, or to book your stay, visit the website.

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