North Londoners are campaigning against the clock for a local Banksy mural to be returned to the wall of a Poundland shop after it mysteriously disappeared and then popped up at a Miami auction house.
It is difficult to ignore the irony of an image of slave labour being sold for between $500,000 to $700,000 for private profit.
But such is the appeal of the elusive graffiti artist Banksy that art collectors appear happy to collude with the portrayal of corporate greed.
The mural of a child sewing bunting first appeared off Turnpike Lane last May – just before streets were decked in bunting as the UK celebrated the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee. And in a countdown to its sale on Saturday, residents are campaigning for it to be returned to its original spot.
“Local people are appalled,” former Harringay councillor and local resident Narendra Makanji told Channel 4 News.
“People are quite angry, because it was one of those things they became quite fond of. It became an attraction within a day or two. We’re really glad that people came round here [to see it]: proud and protective.”
Residents first noticed it was gone at the weekend, when the wall was covered with tarpaulin and scaffolding, and the Banksy artwork – which had been protected by a sheet of Perspex – was then replaced by plaster. New graffiti, citing: “Danger, thieves” shortly appeared near the blank wall (see above), and locals are not pleased.
“Is everything about money?” Karen Bryson told Channel 4 News on twitter. “It belongs in Wood Green! It’s on the side of Pound Land shop for a reason!”
Peter Lamb was not impressed either, and wrote on the Channel 4 News Facebook page: “It’s utterly worthless now that it’s been taken out of its intended context so any one who actually forks out money for it now that its meaning has been destroyed will be a fool of the highest order.”
@channel4news no,but I miss cycling past it every day :-(
— the cycling pianist (@cyclingpianist) February 20, 2013
Even though Banksy’s murals are often given the status of public art and are protected, the owner of the property housing the mural is the legal owner and has the right to sell it. If Banksy claimed authentication, he would be liable for vandalism, says Stephan Keszler, a Banksy expert and New York City gallery owner.
The anonymous street artist, who refuses to reveal his real name, began his career spray-painting buildings and bridges in Bristol – and this is not the first time that the removal of his work has sparked controversy and conflict between owners and the local community.
At first, Poundland owners were the focus of residents’ rage, but they were quick to say they had no knowledge of what happened.
But part of the problem in this case, local councillor Alan Strickland told Channel 4 News, is that there is still confusion over who gave permission to what.
“We’ve got a community here who really want to know what happened to a piece of work that they see as theirs,” he said. “The owners have yet to clarify whether they’ve removed it, or whether they’ve given their consent.”
After a few days, Harringay councillors realised that the mural had found its way to Fine Art Auctions Miami and will be sold on Saturday, at an estimated $500,000 to $700,000.
The Arts Council said “it is a shame that a piece of street art that is well loved by the local community has been removed for auction”. But added that there is not much they can do as the artwork is less than 50 years old, so excluded from export control. Fine Art Auctions Miami could not immediately be reached for comment.
The artwork is due to be put on sale in three days time. But Mr Strickland says he is still hopeful and is writing an open letter to the auction – and to the Mayor of Miami – to put forward the community’s opinions.
“Even if the piece is being legitimately sold, it has been given to the community by Banksy,” he said, “not to be pulled out of the wall and sold for profit.”