At Banksy Social Club in Mazatlan, Mexico, you enter through the gift shop. There, in the haze of smoke and neon, displayed atop mannequin heads resembling Renaissance busts, are a variety of baseball hats embroidered with the partial peace signs from Banksy’s CND Soldiers (2005). They go for around £22 each. It is safe to say they were not officially licensed, but as one of Banksy’s stencils famously declared, “Copyright is for losers.”
Forge into the club’s matrix of lasers and strobe lights, and you’ll find a framed reproduction of CND Soldiers along with other Banksy icons, like the Palestinian ”flower thrower” and the urinating palace guard; built into the wall next to him, the façade of a red telephone box is flanked by a trenchcoat-wearing listener from his Spy Booth mural.
In contrast to the naked, tray-toting Neanderthal pictured in yet another gilded frame, the servers at Banksy Social Club are dressed to the nines. Buy a bottle of Moët and a host in a traditional Arabic robe and keffiyeh (a nod to “cultural diversity”, a spokesperson for the club’s owners explained) will march across the dance floor with a faux golden machine gun. Unlike the one that Crayon Boy toted in Banksy’s 2011 Los Angeles mural, this gun serves as a sparkler. Not far behind, a red-vested waiter hoists a faux missile similar to the one strapped to the elephant in Heavy Weaponry—except this rocket holds glow-in-the-dark shot glasses. Bringing up the rear, women in skin-tight bodysuits and laser-beaming sunglasses hoist giant letters that spell out—you guessed it—“BANKSY”.
Mazatlan, a city on the Sinaloa coast blessed with an abundance of sun and seafood, is not known for its art scene. Mexican families flock here to quaff massive micheladas in the back of golf-cart-like taxis or to sing along to banda music as they cruise the Rio de Janeiro-esque boardwalk in party pickups. In the resort-packed Golden Zone—with its Señor Frog’s outlet stores and ATV rental spots—one does not expect to encounter a warehouse-like building spray-painted with Banksy teddy bears and Keith Haring dogs. But there it is. Even the palm trees outside have been tagged top-to-bottom with words like “Happiness” and “Street Art”.
Banksy Social Club was opened in March of 2021 by Grupo Marea, a hospitality group that also operates La Marea, a destination restaurant with sweeping views of Mazatlan’s bustling port and its mountaintop lighthouse. The club’s Facebook page shows scantily-clad gogo girls and guys dancing in steel cages, along with entreaties like “Make the night yours” and “Please don’t touch the artwork!”. The artwork, the owners say, was created entirely by local artists.
While it is easy to dismiss the bootleg Banksies as a gimmick, they certainly were not added as an afterthought. The club’s entry hallway and its first room are set up like galleries, complete with large sculptures of a graffitied lion and an angel holding up a missile. The latter was likely inspired by Banksy´s stencil of the Mona Lisa shouldering a bazooka, a reproduction of which is mounted nearby and protected behind red velvet rope.
The Grupo Marea spokesperson describes the endeavor as “an eclectic homage to rebellious art”. Rebellious though Banksy’s work may be, the artist has recently attempted (unsuccessfully) to use European Union trademark law to shut down unauthorised usage of his name and images. Asked what Banksy might think of this particular appropriation, the Grupo Marea spokesperson reiterated that it was a tribute to “art in all of its expressions, with references to various trends and artists from a diversity of genres”. The club also includes a light installation evoking Dan Flavin or James Turrell, which doubles as a selfie mirror.
Has Banksy heard of his eponymous Mexican social club? The spokesperson did not say whether he has been in touch, and Pest Control, the artist’s authentication body, did not respond to requests for comment. This much can be said: If you can’t make it to a traveling Banksy exhibition (which also tend to be heavy on reproductions), this might be the next best thing. If you like your street art served with reggaetón and laser beams, it is probably the first best thing.