Originally titled Barcode Leopard Tiger, this piece comes out of Banksy’s earliest works and immediately made a deep and loud impression on critics, artists and art lovers alike when it first appeared.
This work was exhibited and sold for the first time in 2002 in Los Angeles as part of Banksy’s Existencilism exhibition, which proved to be a breakthrough event for him as an artist. However, an earlier version of this piece, which surfaced in 2015 in Pembroke (a locale in Bristol which is Banksy’s hometown) has given substantial reasons for assuming that Banksy created the Barcode Leopard for the first time somewhere around 1999-2000.
The monochrome work shows a beautiful tiger emerging majestically in liberation from a vehicle resembling an animal cage constructed of a barcode. The bent bars of the barcode-become-cage create the tension in the piece and give it animation and the semblance of an event rather than just an image or idea.
Like some of Banksy’s other works (check out Happy Choppers), there is a fluidity of theme, and the interplay of opposing elements (visual and conceptual) allows for a variety and freedom of interpretation to the viewer.
The most obvious and perhaps slightly boring interpretation is that Banksy is bringing our attention towards the illegal trade and commodification of wildlife, especially the poaching of big cats for materials and their entrapment for the amusement of the rich in private spaces or the masses in zoos.
There are thankfully, more philosophical and deeper interpretations available. The liberation of the leopard is also pointing towards a far more sinister and conceptual entrapment. The enslaving nature of consumerism, which the barcode represents in the most candid and cold manner possible, is what Banksy could be pointing towards. The Leopard is a brilliant metaphor for nature, freedom and the vitality of life, while the barcode-become-cage represents the impersonal, inhuman and quantitative nature of mass consumerism and modernity in general as a force obsessed with integrating the natural and thus the human into a linear and indexed system.
There might be, in fact there definitely is something amazing happening in this piece which evades the eye at first. All organic life (and even mineral) has an inherent element of uniqueness that permeates the diverse world of nature. No two leaves on a tree are completely alike, even identical twins bound by DNA are unique and separate, just as all leopards have a unique set of prints on their fur. However, this vibrant and unique diversity is bound by an underlying unity of essence and integrated into a system which is nature.
On the other hand, all barcodes are unique too, representing individual products and information which is integrated into a system as well, like the database in a supermarket or cyber-capitalism. However, while the leopard’s uniqueness of spots represents unity of essence and diversity of form. The barcode represents unnatural uniformity, like we observe in mass produced products. Nature and life versus machine and systems, quantification versus the qualitative, unity versus uniformity and linear versus holistic--this dialectic is at play here in wonderfully minimal visual depiction. Leopard spots and barcodes represent the entire philosophical discourse of post-modernity and a return to nature. The monochrome print helps bring this dialectic alive in a visual form.
Specialists in Banksy prints and urban art, Contemporary Art Trader can help you find your very own, authentic Barcode, signed or unsigned. For any queries you may have, contact us today.