Banksy Back With A Bang: Infamous Graffiti Artist Returns With Political Mural In NYC

 Photo by Anne Sraders

Photo by Anne Sraders

Notorious graffiti artist known as Banksy made a sensational return to New York City with a new politically-charged mural on March 16. The graffiti piece, titled “Free Zehra Dogan,” defends Turkish-Kurdish artist Zehra Dogan, who has been sentenced to almost three years for painting a political picture of a war-torn Kurdish town under the Turkish flag.

Banksy posted an Instagram picture shortly after completing the piece with the caption “Sentenced to nearly three years in jail for painting a single picture. #FREEzehradogan.”

The mural, which covers the Bowery Wall on Bowery and Houston Street, depicts Dogan behind bars made of drawing pencils. According to PEN America, Dogan was sentenced to three years in prison for “creating a painting of a Turkish city heavily damaged by state security force” on March 24, 2017. The mural is the first Banksy has done in New York since 2013.

Banksy’s identity has remained anonymous for his entire career. But while the ever-elusive Banksy has let his work speak for itself, there are countless artists who have opinions on it and its impact on awareness for injustices toward the artistic community.

“Art can be used as more than just selling or more than just showing what you can do—you can deliver a message and make some change, and bring attention to circumstances.”

Lolita Beckwith, a Brooklyn-based street photographer, is one such artist.

“I chronicled his residency a few years ago, where he did 30 days in New York of a different piece every day, so I came to every piece,” Beckwith explained.

As far as street art goes, Banksy is at the “top of the list” for Beckwith.

Given the enormous media response to Banksy, it appears that the public is in agreement with Beckwith. Still, she maintains that there may be a deeper responsibility for artists to expose injustice in their community.

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“I love the message [of the art],” Beckwith said. “Art can be used as more than just selling or more than just showing what you can do—you can deliver a message and make some change, and bring attention to circumstances. That’s what I’m about to do with my photography—you can tell stories.”

However, not all response to the controversial artist’s work has been as positive.

Beckwith says as much.

“He has a lot of fans, but I think he has a lot of haters, too,” Beckwith said. “When he did his residency, there was one in the Bronx where people actually came in and stole it in the middle of everybody … and tried to sell it.”

The fact that Banksy’s works are technically vandalism has caused much public debate on how to react to the art.

“I used to think other graffiti writers hated me because I used stencils, but they just hate me.”

But despite accruing some public backlash, Banksy has also not always been a favorite among graffiti artists either.

In fact, in 2013, Banksy told the Village Voice, “I used to think other graffiti writers hated me because I used stencils, but they just hate me.”

With the trend of defacing Banksy’s works on the rise, Beckwith advised, “Once you hear about [his pieces], you get there quick. It’s serious when it comes to Banksy.”

Still, although controversial to some, the British artist-slash-activist’s works seem to resonate in both artistic and sociopolitical communities.

“That’s one of the things I love about him - his work is always so unique and so iconic and always so recognizable,” Beckwith said. “And he’s always so creative about what he does.”

Having struck a political nerve with his first piece in New York this time around, Banksy is not stopping now. In the days following his first piece “Free Zehra Dogan,” new works have been popping up everywhere, from Harlem to 14th Street.

Whether or not Banksy will repeat his residency pattern of 2013, New York City continues to be made over as the backdrop for the artist’s recognizable work.