Since the arrival of the stencil depicting Mona Lisa with a bazooka by Banksy, this image has developed into an icon in Street Art culture. Several street artists have been inspired by this portrait and, looking at some examples below, we can conclude that Mona always causes a stir with her mysterious gaze.

The original Mona Lisa by Leonardo Da Vinci, Mona by OKUDA SAN MIGUEL

The most recent variation to surface is the Mona refugee by Cake$. Here we see a Mona Lisa from head to toe, wound with barbed wire, fleeing with her children. It is obvious that the face of the woman echoes the famous portrait by Leonardo da Vinci. But why her, why this face, this icon? What makes Mona Lisa such an extremely relevant icon?

mona lisa by cake$

Cake$ 

Mona is the result of a period in which Humanism was celebrated. Humanity was the focal point of the Renaissance period. After a period of 1,000 years of individual subservience (the so-called “Dark ages”) the aim now became to civilize the individual. Human intellect was put on a pedestal and knowledge and development in the field of prosperous manners, art and science were highly regarded and cultivated.

By now, Mona, the product of this turn to the individual, has been showered with praise for centuries. Just consider the great number of visitors to the Louvre who go there first and foremost to catch a glimpse of her. She obviously has something special. Known for her mysterious smile, her unknown status (who was she really?) and the beautiful painting style by Leonardo da Vinci, she has long been and will long remain a must-see, and therefore a timeless icon. With its famous “sfumato technique” in which the color transitions of the incarnation (skin on face and hands) merge into each other in unprecedented craftsmanship, Mona stands for civilization.

mona lisa by banksy

Banksy

Banksy brought Mona and her smile to those places where humanity seemed to be missing. He had her smiling with a rocket launcher on her shoulder, Cake$ has her smiling on the run with her children. Both use the cultural masterpiece from the Renaissance to put the harrowing events in the world around us into high contrast.

mona lisa by cake$

Photo by @robby.rent

We all recognize Mona, and it is somewhat disturbing to see her running in despair. The contrast between recognition on the one hand, and the anonymity of the refugee on the other, unsettles you. In our present age, where celebrity culture is all-pervasive, it is likely that it takes an icon to make people see what is happening in the world around us. Cake$ commands this language and gives the individual, whom we see daily in the news as part of a group (“refugees”), a face we are unable to ignore – literally: the face of this Renaissance Icon. It is not the only contrast that makes the work powerful. There is also the fact that Mona’s identity is still shrouded in mystery: by making us take note Cake$ reinforces the meaning and power of his latest work. We all cherish the mysterious woman known as Mona Lisa… if only we would care as much about the stateless in our time.

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