All the way back in June 2019 (which feels like centuries ago now), at Glastonbury’s Pyramid stage, Michael Kwadjo Omari Owuo Jr, also known as Stormzy walked out to perform. He sported a stab-proof vest decorated with a spray-painted monochrome Union Jack.
It was only after the show that Banksy staked claim, posting on his Instagram: “I made a customised stab-proof vest and thought – who could possibly wear this?”, and he provided his answer on a separate line: “Stormzy, at Glastonbury”. In response, Stormzy wrote, “Absolutely fucking speechless” on his now-deleted Twitter account.
Whether you believe that this was not an oragnised collaboration, and that, in fact, Banksy somehow surreptitiously snuck his design to Stormzy’s team without anyone knowing, is up to you. Honestly, the vest coordinated with the aesthetic and design of Stormzy’s set too neatly for anyone to believe it was unbeknownst to the grime artist.
However, what you cannot deny was the impactful and dramatic picture it painted; a poignant piece standing in front of the prison-like background, with flashes of words such as “knife crime” or excerpts of a David Lammy speech on re-offence rates for black men. The entire set’s aesthetics resonated with various references to tragedies befallen the country. The black and white tones, the dried blood-like spray-paint of the Union Jack against a stab-proof vest seemed to amalgamate into a mournful testament to the state of the country.
Fast forward to October this year and the stab-proof vest in question has been nominated for a prestigious design award, the Beazley Designs of the Year. The Design Museum of London’s director stated that this years’ nominees include pieces that “respond to urgent questions of inequality and censorship, health and sanitation, and the ongoing possibilities of design and technology”.
The vest has to compete against 74 other nominees, including the 3D rendering of COVID-19, the special effects in the movie The Irishman, Tik Tok’s Renegade dance, the see-saw through the USA-Mexico border and even a Wuhan hospital that was built in only 12 days. Clearly, the London Museum of Design have picked pieces through which you can practically trace the trajectory of 2020. And so, Stormzy and Banksy’s collaboration is pretty monumental.
Stormzy’s performance was ground-breaking in that he made history by being the first Black British solo act to headline at Glastonbury. His mere presence on the stage brought attention to the inequalities rife throughout Britain. What Banksy’s vest did was inextricably link Britain’s history and what the Union Jack stands for to these inequalities.
– Abi Smuts
Featured Image Source: Still via banksyfilm // YouTube.