LONDON — Residents of a sleepy English seaside town were delighted to learn that the world-famous street artist known as Banksy chose their neighborhood to daub a new piece of poignant art timed for Valentine’s Day.
But not long after it appeared, the district council dismantled it — prompting an outcry from residents who called it overreach by their local government at the expense of art that could draw touriststo Margate, Kent.
The artwork depicts a 1950s-eque housewife wearing a frilly cleaning apron and bright yellow rubber gloves. She also has a black eye, a bruised cheek and broken teeth. The apparent victim of domestic abuse appears to be tucking away her abuser into a real-life freezer positioned in front of the mural. Drawings of his legs poke out of the other side.
Thanet council workers hauled away the large, white chest freezer that was central to the artwork, citing health and safety concerns. A frying pan, beer bottle and broken white plastic chair thatwere also seemingly part of the installation wereremoved along with the freezer.
“Shame Thanet Council have removed the fridge when they do nothing to prevent fly tipping the rest of the time,” one Instagram user wrote.
“Powerful, shame the council had to destroy it by removing the props!!!!! [Typically] takes them months to move anything or do any repairs normally,” another quipped.
Others, however, argued the “whole point” of graffiti is to be temporary.
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Many online applauded the piece that Banksy called“Valentine’s Day Mascara” for championing the issue of domestic abuse on a day normally reserved for celebrating romantic relationships.
“Thank you for highlighting the lengths some women must go to in order to save their own lives and the lives of their children,” one person wrote. “Thankyou Banksy, coming to Margate & brightening up peoples day again,” another said.
Some 2.4 million adults in England and Wales experienced domestic abuse in the year ending March 2022, according to most recent government data. The majority of victims are women — and abuseworsened during the coronavirus pandemic, women’s rights groups say.
The murders of two young women walking home in Britain, Sarah Everard and Sabina Nessa, in recent years have also brought the issue to the fore and sparked international headlines.
A social media post by the elusive British artist had been liked more than 1.4 million times on Instagram as of Wednesday. Banksy has not made any public comment on the dismantling of the artwork.
“The freezer which council operatives removed from the Banksy installation in Margate has now been made safe. It has been returned to its original position at the site of the artwork today,” a Thanet council spokesperson wrote in an emailed statement.
“Banksy raises the important issue of domestic abuse in this artwork,” the spokesperson wrote. “We are in touch with the owner of the property to understand their intentions around the preservation of the piece and to secure the best possible outcome for the local community and victims of domestic abuse.”
The graffiti is painted on the wall of a privately owned property. A resident, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to talk candidly, told the BBC they were “absolutely upset” by the council’s actions. “It was part of the art, they should be very happy because Margate could get bigger attention, positive attention.”
The secretive street artist’s works sell for millions and pop up across the world, causing a buzz in the art world and on social media, most recently in war-torn Ukraine, as well as in Jerusalem, Venice and Paris.
Despite being one of the world’s best-known artists, Banksy has managed to maintain his anonymity since he rose to fame in the 1990s.