Banksy’s newest artwork, spray-painted on the walls of a subway car, was accidentally wiped off by an employee of the London Tube.
The anonymous British graffiti artist shared a video on his Instagram yesterday, July 15, presumably showing the artist dressed in head-to-toe professional cleaning gear, including goggles and gloves, spraying and stenceling the walls of a moving train. The design, a series of rats posing with face masks and hand sanitizers — with one unmasked rodent caught mid-sneeze — appeared to be a humorous nod to the new normal imposed by coronavirus pandemic.
“If you don’t mask — you don’t get,” reads the caption on the video.
At the end of the Instagram video, the words “I get lockdown” are seen scrawled on the station walls, followed by “I get back up again” on the closed doors of the train. The cheeky phrase is a play on the lyrics of the song “Tubthumping” by the British rock band Chumbawamba.
The ironic twist came when an actual cleaner employed by the London Underground unknowingly removed the world-renowned street artist’s graffiti. A source cited by the Evening Standard said the employee had “noticed some sort of ‘rat thing’” and wiped it off.
The staff was complying with the “strict anti-graffiti policy” of Transport for London (TfL), the authority that oversees the Underground, the agency said in a statement. However, TfL appreciated “the sentiment of encouraging people to wear face coverings” and has asked Banksy to create a new version of the work “in a suitable location.”
Works by Banksy, whose identity remains concealed, have fetched up to millions of dollars at auction, and the artist has acquired cult status for both his guerrilla art practice and enigmatic persona. Although the cleaner did not appear to recognize the name of the artist signed on the subway walls, some have criticized the city for the mural’s removal.