On 14 July, the British street artist Banksy, shared a video on his Instagram account showing the London underground where he made his mark on the interior carriage of a circle line train. The comments section of the post reads: ‘If you don’t mask – you don’t get’.
His latest artwork comes after the British government announced that wearing a face covering will become mandatory in shops and supermarkets in England from 24th July. There was a lot of controversy circling this announcement, with citizens and politicians alike unhappy with wearing masks. While some of the population has criticised the government’s lagging decision to introduce compulsory mask-wearing so late on, while other European countries introduced this law as early as March.
In the video, titled, ‘London Underground undergoes deep clean’, Banksy appears to be dressed as a cleaner, carrying a yellow pressure sprayer (which he uses to distribute blue paint), wearing a white coverall hazmatt, high-viz vest with a ‘stay safe’ logo on the front and back (a reference to the UK government’s ‘stay alert, stay safe’ campaign), blue gloves and covering his face, a gas mask and goggles. The video follows the artist into the underground and enters into one of the carriages.
As the train speeds off, Banksy gets to work, painting the walls and windows using the signature stencilled rat as his subject matter, they are each depicted in context with the COVID-19 pandemic. You see one rat coughing or sneezing blue paint over the side of a window and down the sides of the carriage walls. Some rats are depicted using a surgical facemask as a parachute, one rat appears to have landed and its parachute facemask has fallen across its body, enveloping its face. Another rodent appears to dangle from a handrail, holding a bottle of hand sanitiser.
A moment in the video, the Tube tannoy announces the train is approaching Baker Street and the allusive artist asks a passenger to move further down the carriage as he continues his work.
After stenciling the rats onto the train, the artist tags his moniker across a door, exits the train and ascends the stairs to the station exit. The final moment of the video, we read, ‘I get lockdown’ on the platform wall and the carriage door closes to reveal the words, ‘but I get up again’. The opening lyrics to the 1997 Chumbawamba song, ‘Tubthumping (I get knocked down)’, plays as the tube doors close and the train speeds off.
The video received mixed reviews on the comments section of the Instagram post. One user said that the work was: “Unrequested vandalism. Art shouldn’t be imposed. Some people don’t have a choice but to use the public transport everyday and not everyone wants to forcibly see a rat-mask-corona inspired piece of art daily.” While another Instagram user simply stated: “GENIUS”.
THE REMOVAL OF THE BANKSY ART
Only hours after Banksy made his mark on a London Underground carriage, the Transport of London removed the stencilling as it was in violation of TfL’s strict anti-graffiti laws. In a statement, TfL said that whilst they “appreciate the sentiment of encouraging people to wear face coverings”, they have removed the stencilling from the underground train but inviting the artist to re-do the work elsewhere: “we’d like to offer Banksy the chance to do a new version in a suitable location.”
WHAT ELSE HAS BANKSY BEEN UP TO?
Any work that Banksy seems to do now, gets published directly onto his Instagram account. During lockdown and over the course of the pandemic, the artists appear to have been very active. Anyone who knows anything about Banksy is aware that his artwork is usually in reference to current affairs, social issues and the political system.
Other pieces of artwork he has done over the past few months include a stencil of a group of people pulling down a statue. The accompanying caption reads: “What should we do with the empty plinth in the middle of Bristol? Here’s an idea that caters for both those who miss the Colston statue and those who don’t. We drag him out the water, put him back on the plinth, tie cable round his neck and commission some life size bronze statues of protestors in the act of pulling him down. Everyone happy. A famous day commemorated.”
This is a nod towards the anti-racist, Black Lives Matter protests that occured in Bristol in June. The statue of slave trader Edward Colston was toppled by demonstrators and dumped in the harbour.
On 6th June, Banksy published an Instagram post of a painting that he created in dedication to George Floyd, a 46-year-old black man who was killed by police in May in Minneapolis, USA. Banksy included a statement accompanying the dedication that read, “At first, I thought I should just shut up and listen to black people about this issue. But why would I do that? It’s not their problem. It’s mine. People of color are being failed by the system. The white system.”
Banksy also revealed a painting on his Instagram account, depicting a young boy playing with his toys. A basket that sits next to him is filled with his Batman and Spiderman figurines. He chooses to play with his favourite superhero, the NHS nurse. The artwork hangs in a foyer near the emergency department in Southampton Hospital and marks as a thankyou to the NHS staff. The artwork was accompanied with a note for hospital workers reading, “Thanks for all you’re doing. I hope this brightens the place up a bit, even if it’s only black and white.”
If you are interested in Banksy and the work that he does, contact UP & COMING ART to find out more about the street artist.