Bananas: A Significant Fruit

Article excerpt

In the centre of Liverpool stands a piece of public art called the SuperLambBanana. Angel of the North it ain't. It is a bright yellow sculpture, 18 feet high, of a lamb mutating into a banana. The meaning of this work, by the Japanese artist Taro Chiezo, is not obvious, but I have heard that it symbolises Liverpool's sea trading past, exporting wool and importing bananas.

The sculpture's key element is clearly the banana. This fruit, with its familiarity and sameness, has inspired art from Andy Warhol's album cover for the Velvet Underground to the mounds of bananas placed in city squares by Douglas Fishbone. But the banana's uniformity is also its downfall. The bananas we eat are sterile clones that can reproduce only from their cuttings--and now the standard global banana, the Cavendish, is threatened by fungal disease. In future, this may lead to more expensive Cavendishes, or some alternative genetic mutant not yet devised.

Despite being frowned upon in today's low-carb diets, the banana is still the bestselling food item in supermarkets, and yet it is more than that. Ever since the words "have a banana" were inserted into the music-hall song "Let's All Go Down the Strand", it has had a status no other fruit shares. In the interwar period, London's Tin Pan Alley tossed out songs such as "Yes, We Have No Bananas" and "I've Never Seen a Straight Banana", and dance halls held banana nights. When a ship loaded with bananas arrived at Avonmouth in December 1945, to be greeted by hundreds of children who had never seen a banana, it was a national event. …