Published on 23 Feb 2013 Sections

Banksy: whose art is it anyway?

The people of Wood Green in north London are pleading with a Miami auction house not to sell a Banksy mural which disappeared from a local wall – but is it too late?

Slave Labour, which shows a young boy hunched over a sewing machine making Union flag bunting (Getty)

Slave Labour, which shows a young boy hunched over a sewing machine making Union flag bunting, appeared on the wall in Wood Green, last May, just before the Diamond Jubilee celebrations.

The mural, by arguably the world’s most famous graffiti artist, disappeared last weekend and is now being sold thousands of miles away in Miami, despite pleas from people back in north London upset by its disappearance.

Fine Art Auctions (FAA) featured the art work on the front page of their website ahead of their Modern, Contemporary and Street Art sale at noon local time (8pm GMT). They expect Slave Labour to reach between £328,063 and £459,288 at auction.

An empty wall after the mural was taken

A rat holding up a sign saying: “Why?” has been stencilled next to the empty space where the mural stood, with some speculating it could be another work by Banksy.

The disappearance of the Banksy prompted Haringey Council to launch a campaign to bring it back to the UK. The council has called on the Arts Council and Culture Secretary Maria Miller to intervene. So far however, they have not succeeded in halting the auction.

‘Local pride’

Councillor Alan Strickland said: “The community feels that this art work was given to it for free, and that it should be kept in Haringey where it belongs, not sold for a fast buck.

“This is an area that was rocked by riots less than a year before this mural was painted, and for many in the community the painting has become a real symbol of local pride.”

The council is investigating how the removal of the mural occurred.

Council leader Claire Kober said they were trying to “explore all avenues” before the sale and had also appealed to Mayor of Miami Tomás Regalado to help.

In an open letter to FAA owner Frederic Thut from the people of Haringey, posted on the council’s website, they urged him to abandon the sale.

The letter read: “We understand that there may be nothing illegal in the way this artwork was quietly removed from our streets and put up for auction by you in Miami.

“But for you to allow it to be sold for huge profit in this way would be morally wrong, and completely contrary to the spirit in which we believe it was given to our community.”

Mr Thut said he had been inundated with angry phone calls from the UK over the sale, but has insisted that the artwork was not stolen.

‘No crime’

A Scotland Yard spokesman said: “There have been no reports of any theft. It appears there has been a decision by someone to remove it for sale – there is no suggestion of any crime being committed.

A solicitor for property firm Wood Green Investments, which owns the Poundland site where the Banksy was painted, told the Financial Times: “If they deny removing the mural they will become embroiled in an international criminal investigation that has already involved the FBI, but if they admit to consenting to (its removal) then they will become the target of abuse.

“As a consequence, the advice to my client has been to say nothing.”