How secretive graffiti artist Banksy is illustrating the Covid-19 crisis


This undated handout photo issued by shows a person appearing to be blown back by the artwork of a woman sneezing. The artwork is a confirmed Banksy mural that has appeared on a wall in Vale Street, Bristol, England. — PA Media/

It might be on the wall of an old barbershop, or in the subway: Banksy’s pictures appear suddenly, overnight, as if by magic. Works by the famously mysterious British street artist can often be found in unexpected - even unpromising - places.

His recent works focus on the pandemic, with its heroes and victims.

More people have died of the novel coronavirus in Britain than in any other country in Europe.

British media recently published images of his latest work, which appeared on the wall of a Bristol home. It depicts an elderly lady who sneezes so hard that her false teeth fly from her mouth.

Located on the steepest street in the country, it also looks as though the woman’s sneeze has nearly blown down the neighbouring houses.

Another work by Banksy involved rats and encouraged people to wear protective face masks. The artist sprayed images of the creatures using face masks as parachutes onto the walls of a London Underground train. Another rat – not depicted in a mask - sneezed a spray of colour onto the window.

Unfortunately, the cleaners working in the train did not recognise the artist’s hand and wiped the images away. Art experts say they were worth several million pounds.

The work was done by Banksy himself, according to a video shared on Instagram, thought to feature the artist clad in a white protective suit and mask. “If you don’t mask, you don’t get, ” he wrote.

A work by Banksy suddenly appeared on the outside wall of a beauty salon in Nottingham a few months ago. Sprayed in black and white, it features a girl playing with a bike tyre as a hula-hoop.

“Everyone is very excited, and many, many people are coming to see the picture, ” the salon’s owner said.

Locals reviewed the work as a sign of encouragement amid the crisis, as the city was among those worst affected by the virus in Britain.

At a hospital in Southampton, Banksy created a work for the heroes of the pandemic, adding a note that said: “Thanks for all you’re doing. I hope this brightens the place up a bit.” The work depicts a child holding a doll dressed as a nurse in his hand. He waves her through the air as her cape sails behind her like Superman.

And as many worked from home during the pandemic, Banksy also posted a work on Instagram created in his own bathroom. Using his signature stencilling technique, he sprayed several rats onto the walls and arranged objects so it looked as though they had created havoc.

“My wife hates it when I work from home, ” he wrote. That has only further fuelled speculation about the identity of the artist known as Banksy, famed already for hanging his works, without permission, in galleries such as the Louvre in Paris or the Tate Modern in London.

Identity under wraps

The real name of the artist known as Banksy remains unknown.

He is thought to come from the south-western city of Bristol, and he made his name by drawing attention to social issues such as consumption and homelessness with his street art.

Many suspect he is Robin Gunningham, a street artist from Bristol, a speculation published after extensive research by the Daily Mail newspaper in 2008. Years later, researchers at London’s Queen Mary University reached the same conclusion using criminology methods. They compared Banksy’s works and Gunningham’s whereabouts, and found many coincidences and similarities.

Others say Banksy is the Bristol-born singer Robert Del Naja, a member of the British band Massive Attack. They reason that the band’s tour dates coincide with sightings of new works in countries around the world. The singer has denied the rumour but conceded that he and the artist are friends.

Still others say Banksy is a woman who heads a collective of artists.

Whoever the artist is, they certainly have a circle of helpers able to keep a secret.

Once the pandemic is over, Banksy is likely to focus attention on other issues and may circle back to the refugee crisis.

The artist already supports a rescue ship in the Mediterranean, sailing under a German flag. The artist financed the MV Louise Michel, named after a French anarchist, and decorated the vessel, showing a girl wearing a life jacket and a heart-shaped life ring. – dpa/Silvia Kusidlo

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