Two new pieces by the infamous UK street artist were recently revealed. They come at a time of high tension surrounding the city’s handling of the Olympic Games and what’s been called their “sanitization” campaign. As recently as last week the British Transport Police preemptively raided the homes of four now-retired street artists, including one Darren Cullen who had previously been commissioned by adidas, another major Olympic sponsor, and most recently a leading broadcaster for the Games themselves. The strict terms of their bail reflect the anxiety of city officials: no travel on any form of public transit, no travel within a mile of any Olympic stadium, and no possession of spray paint, marker pens or other possible tools.
Banksy’s latest pieces criticize just this ‘sanitized’ handling of the Games. The javelin-turned-missile in one piece comments on the six surface-to-air missile launching sites across the city — including the rooftops of residential apartment buildings — to protect against possible terrorist attacks during the games. The athlete in the other leaps over a barbed wire fence onto a mattress pulled over next to it, a quiet nod to the London boroughs that have been forgotten amidst promises of economic benefit brought on by the Olympics.
So is this a crackdown on graffiti or a crackdown on public dissent? The Brandalism project this past month saw 25 UK artists taking over billboards to comment on some of the very corporations sponsoring the Olympic Games and no doubt will see many of their billboards destroyed. Will London police erase Banksy’s latest works of art in the name of the official, pristine Olympic Games? Or will they let them live, acknowledging the changing landscape of a city as great as London even as the games threaten to divide it even more?