In Paris, Banksy Spreads a Trail of Graffiti, and Rumors







The unsigned murals began appearing quietly in Paris last week. On Wednesday, World Refugee Day, passers-by in the north of the city noticed a stencil of a young black girl near a shuttered center for migrants. Apparently homeless, with a teddy bear and blankets at her feet, she was decorating her patch of sidewalk with a pink wallpaper pattern — and covering up a stark black swastika on the wall above.

More stencils followed: A second mural reworked Jacques-Louis David’s painting of Napoleon crossing the Alps on horseback. The general’s red cloak, instead of billowing around him, is wrapped tightly around his face, in an apparent reference to France’s 2010 ban on face coverings in public places.

Banksy’s publicist, Jo Brooks, confirmed in a telephone interview on Tuesday that the works were his. Shortly afterward, Banksy posted a photo of a graffitied rat holding a box cutter on Instagram, with the caption, “Fifty years since the uprising in Paris 1968. The birthplace of modern stencil art.”

Banksy’s works have often commented on borders and migration: In 2005, he sprayed a series of works sharply critical of Israel on its wall with the West Bank. More recently, in 2015, he portrayed Steve Jobs as a migrant at a refugee camp near Calais, France, a reference to the Apple founder’s Syrian heritage.

Though migration to Europe has decreased since the height of the crisis in 2015, anxiety about it remains high in France and the rest of the European Union. Thousands of refugees in Paris are homeless following closures of camps across the country, including the one near Calais, which was shut down in 2016. In advance of an emergency meeting of European leaders on migration on Sunday, France clashed with Italy over who should accept migrants stranded on a rescue ship in the Mediterranean.

Other murals are more general meditations on greed or cruelty: In one, a rat flies through the air on a popped champagne cork; in another, a man in a suit offers a one-legged dog a bone, while a handsaw behind his back raises the grim possibility that it is the dog’s own leg.

Without the protections of a museum or gallery, the works are prone to damage, and a race to save, alter or deface the Paris murals has already begun. Fans have added clear protective casing to a few of the works. But by Monday, according to the newspaper Le Monde, the rat riding a champagne cork had been cut cleanly out of the wall, and the homeless child had been splashed over with blue paint.

Article from The New York Times, “In Paris, Banksy Spreads a Trail of Graffiti, And Rumors” by Annalisa Quinn, June 26, 2018.