Bye Bye, Banksy

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By Naomi Morris Omori

As seen in Pegasus Pages (Summer 2014)

Update: The Banksy mural remains on the wall and has not been taken to a museum; however, the piece has been vandalised more than once and has therefore been covered up for protection. Its fate remains unclear.

It has been reported that the Banksy piece which was sprayed onto the wall of a house in Cheltenham is being sold for £1 million and will be displayed in a museum in London. This sale has sparked controversy amongst Cheltenham’s residents who have grown extremely fond of this piece of statement artwork.

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On 9th of April the piece now known as ‘Spy Booth’ was discovered. Many suspected that it was an original Banksy and rumours spread that the graffiti artist had been staying nearby for the past few days in order to assess and prepare the area. It was finally confirmed by Banksy himself on 10th June on his website’s Q&A:

“Q: Did you paint spies in Cheltenham?

A: Yes.”

Now, the piece is covered by scaffolding with 24-hour security. It can only be seen by standing in the phone booth. Various attempts at vandalism have been made since the piece appeared on the wall, including the spies being covered by yellow paint until locals working at the pub across the road heroically saved the piece by scrubbing the yellow off before it was dry. Some believe that the piece will be safer if housed in a museum, whilst others believe that graffiti is meant to be an  impermanent and temporary medium. Campaigners argue that the wall is a party wall between 64 Hewlett Road and 159 Fairview Road, and thus belongs to the County Council. There have also been attempts to raise funds to buy the painting and save it for the town, but so far these have been unsuccessful.

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The art depicts three spies listening in to to the telephone conversations of the phone booth which, since Cheltenham is the home to GCHQ, are believed to be a political message aimed at their expense. GCHQ’s responded with good humour to the artwork: “This is the first time we have ever been asked to comment on art.

“Although we are not qualified critics, we are as intrigued as the rest of the residents of Cheltenham about the appearance of the mysterious artwork.

“For those who are interested, our website gives a glimpse of what modern-day intelligence operatives are really like, although some may be disappointed by the lack of trench coats and dark glasses.”

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The piece has indeed caused a lot of attention, with people gathering around every day to take photos. The press surrounded it for several days, including the Associated Press with a camera at the ready. The sleepy residential area where it appeared was unused to this kind of attention and the hundreds of visitors.

The fate of the mural remains uncertain; the scaffolding now covers up the three faces which brightened up the busy round-a-bout and security pace up and down the street in the rain.

Images: Journalist’s own and Abrinsky on Flickr.

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