Stop Talking About Banksy
By now you’ve undoubtedly seen the headlines popping up all over the internet and various social platforms. “Banksy Unmasked!”, “Science Finally Reveals the Artist Behind Banksy”, “New Study Names Banksy Without a Doubt!”. They were everywhere this weekend, and as I watched my uninitiated friends share and revel in the news, I found myself becoming uneasy about the whole thing. ‘Fucking snitches’, I thought, ‘don’t they realize what they are doing?’
It’s because of that initial reaction you won’t see the news or name here on 12ozProphet. As a company that has thrived on anonymity we’d be heated if people were pulling out governments, even if they are incorrect, to talk about us. This is something that as writers you just don’t do. you keep it within the circle, the network of people that you know are capable of keeping their mouths shut at the right times and have nothing to gain from blowing up your spot.
For nearly 15 years now Bansky has been one of the most talked about figures in the graffiti and street art community. His stunts have gained him international acclaim, and price tags that any artist could be envious of. His most recent and probably ambitious achievement was the creation of Dismaland, a rundown theme park that he repurposed in his usual way to poke fun at traditional childhood fairytales. It was cool, but Banksy’s contemporary work has never stood up to the effect of what he does illegally.
That’s why his anonymity, or at least his perceived anonymity, is so important. It has allowed him to continue to work on the streets in an authentic way, balancing his predictable gallery work with the disruption and satisfaction that his illegal work provides. Banksy achieves, very successfully, what most street art purports to do. He points to controversies and contradictions that should be blatantly obvious, but because we’ve become desensitized through over consumption they slip beneath your conscious gaze. Gallery viewings and exhibitions have contributed to that desensitization, which is why painting on the streets, for any writer or artist but especially for Banksy, is so powerful.
The funny thing though is that for anyone who can google search effectively Banksy’s identity was already common knowledge. People have been blowing up his spot for years, trying to nail down who the mystery artist was. And I’m not mad at them. As a trained journalist I know there are ethics you follow in a situation like this in order to protect yourself, your subjects and your sources. While as a graffiti writer it pains me to see someone exposed, there is no denying that Banksy is a public figure, and therefore worthy of this sort of investigation. This coverage and reveal is of his own fruition, he created his own buzz, threw himself into the spotlight, and now he is dealing with it.
I think for the rest of us however this can be a lesson. Our culture is no longer so insular that people won’t go looking for you. As a writer making a name for yourself it’s not just the vandal squad you need to look out for. There are reporters that now more than ever take notice of street art and graffiti, and who are unaware of the customs of the scene. There are fanboys that will share your shit without a thought of the repercussions, because they’ve never caught a whiff of a case in their lives. By placing your name on a wall and building up a reputation you are forcing people to take notice, so you can’t get mad when they dig a little deeper.
When graffiti blossomed from the South Bronx there were no data driven algorithms, no DNA testing, shit there weren’t even computers. Writers are more exposed and vulnerable than ever. From geo-tagging on instagram, to the plotting of every piece you’ve done to develop a profile, there are tools now that can track you to a T. I think we can benefit from considering ways the modern writer can protect themselves. It’s time to turn inward, and remember that only people who are a piece of this culture understand the sacrifice it takes to commit to the streets. My beef isn’t with the reporters or statisticians who wanted to out Banksy, it’s with our own community that let them get so deep without checking them first.
At this point it’s not about protecting an identity, it’s about the principle of the matter. Banksy brought heat on himself, we all do, but we also know not to exacerbate the situation. Keep your mouth shut and go about your business. Stop buying into hype and following trends, just stay true to the craft.