Over the course of 15 months, in total secrecy, artist Banksy’s latest project came to life as he converted a vacant apartment building into what is now The Walled Off Hotel. The nine-room inn faces the West Bank Wall in Bethlehem, on the Palestinian side. Every inch of the hotel was carefully decorated and designed by Banksy. Staying in the hotel means you have literally entered one of Banksy’s works of art - an incredibly surreal sensation. However, the location of said work of art is what makes it truly remarkable. This is surely the only hotel in the world that markets its bad view as a chief selling point, claiming with a sense of boastful satire to offer “the world’s worst view.” They aren’t entirely wrong.
Every room looks out onto the concrete security wall which separates East and West Bethlehem. The specific area in front of the hotel loops to create an enclosure used by the Israeli military. The wall is less than 10 feet from the hotel entrance and is decorated with graffiti and stencils that depict anti-wall sentiments or use clever sayings like “make hummus, not war” to make their feelings about the wall known.
Outside and adjacent to the hotel is the Wall*Mart, a stencil workshop that has all the necessary tools and materials to allow guests of the hotel to “decorate” the wall for the small price of about 60-100 shekels depending on the size of the artwork and number of paint cans required. We had the opportunity to create some stencils for the wall, it was a humbling experience.
The interior of the hotel has many stories to tell. The lobby boasts multiple paintings containing imagery associated to fleeing and oppression. A painted triptych of a beach covered in life vests hangs above the lobby fireplace and a wall at the back features a series of security cameras hanging like trophy heads. Every wall has an art piece that screams a political statement in the manner that Banksy has become known for. There are many props, too many to count, that cover the lobby area. Even the architecture seems to have been altered to transport you to a different time and place. Wainscotting and stenciled wallpaper transform the space into an English cottage. Vintage tea cups decorated with the face of Princess Diana litter the walls and shelves. Once you’ve left the check-in area and gone past the dining hall, a secret door decorated as a bookcase leads to the rooms. You can also continue left into the Museum which gives a 100-year overview of the conflict between the Palestinian and Israeli People.
The Museum opens with a motorized dummy (Englishman, 1917) and contains artifacts, weapons, photos, and videos showing the increasing occupation of the Israeli military leading up to the construction of the wall from 2002-2005. The exhibition looks at the Wall from many angles but pushes a clear message: it is opposed to the Israeli occupation and expansion. The Museum ends where it begins, at a small gift shop where you can buy books about the Wall and the conflict. There is also a gallery show that runs upstairs and to the left of the Museum which contains a variety of works by local Palestinian artists.
A hidden stairway leads up to three floors and nine themed guest rooms. The hallways connecting the rooms also showcase works by Banksy. Besides the dark and satirical decoration of each room, all were pleasant and comfortable.
I was having dinner when I got the call from my business partner Carlo who proposed going to see the hotel for ourselves. The rooms were going fast and our schedules were limited, so we booked the rooms and planned to leave. I knew very little regarding the history of Palestine and Israel before this trip. I visited Banksy’s latest project with no prior knowledge or bias. I can truly say that this experience has given me a better grasp on the situation surrounding the wall and the people affected by it. Although my feelings on the issue are still blurred, one thing is clear: standing in front of the wall you become aware of the severity of the situation and that the wall is a distinct symbol of oppression. It crushes you. The Walled Off Hotel embodies Banksy’s dark comedy and addresses at the chaos that surrounds the Wall. Some art is meant to inflict discomfort and promote discussion. I can attest to the fact that Banksy has achieved this, turning the hotel into a form of creative activism - a weapon more powerful than any gun.
Photos: walledoffhotel.com // Station 16 Gallery