With London’s art galleries closed, us Londoners are having to get our art fix wherever we can find it. That’s why it was so heartening to hear about the Banksy artwork on the London Underground.
The piece, which featured a rat in a face mask clutching a bottle of hand sanitiser, has already been removed by Transport For London’s cleaning contractor, but it’s nice to know that the Coronavirus Crisis hasn’t completely dampened London’s creative spirit.
Banksy’s artwork appeared on the network over the weekend and the Bristol based artist quickly took to Social media to share a video about the installation. Accompanying the video was the words: “if you don’t mask, you don’t get”.
The video showed the artist up to his old tricks. Disguised as a member of Transport for London’s cleaning team, the legendary artist, whose identity remains a closed guarded secret, was filmed boarding a Circle line train. Once on board, Banksy quickly set about creating his latest piece, using a spray can cunning disguised as a disinfectant spray.
The work features several rats in various parts of a Tube carriage. One is clutching a bottle of hand sanitiser, another appears to be sneezing, while another still is using a face mask as a parachute. Spray painted on the carriage door is a reference to a song lyric. “I get lockdown, but I get up again” reads the inscription, which is a reference to a lyric from the 90s pop band Chumbawamba.
There has been some controversy about what Banksy’s latest work means. Some have suggested that the piece is a sly dig at the government’s face mask policy. For those who take this view, it is no coincidence that the work was installed on the same day that the government announced the compulsory wearing of face masks in shops would begin on the 24th of July.
For others, however, the work is seen as a polite reminder to Londoners that wearing a face mask is an important, and even lifesaving action. Indeed, the masks are already compulsory on the London Transport Network.
A spokesman for TfL had this to say about the new artwork: “We appreciate the sentiment of encouraging people to wear face coverings, which the vast majority of customers on our transport network are doing. In this particular case, the work was removed some days ago due to our strict anti-graffiti policy. We’d like to offer Banksy the chance to do a new version of his message for our customers in a suitable location.”
The Bristol born artist has achieved worldwide fame for his often humorous take on guerrilla street art. With his signature stencilled style, and interest in political commentary, the artist is one of the most famous British artists of the last fifty years, even if his real identity remains a mystery.
More information on Banksy can be found here.
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