Banksy’s face-mask themed artwork removed from London Underground

Banksy has struck again with his third coronavirus-themed artwork. The latest typically playful work appeared earlier this week on the London Underground Tube, encouraging travellers to wear a face mask.

In a video posted to Instagram called ‘If You Don’t Mask, You Don’t Get’, Banksy can been seen entering the Underground disguised as a professional cleaner. At one point he even orders a mask-wearing passenger away for interrupting his ‘cleaning’ as he stencils rats onto the carriage.

One rodent was depicted struggling under the weight of his protective gear, whilst another uses a mask as a parachute. An infected rat sneezes onto the carriage window, splattering it with blue virus droplets.

The video concludes with the words “I get lockdown” graffitied on a station wall, followed by the tube doors closing to reveal the phrase “but I get up again“. In the background the 1997 hit ‘Tubthumping’ by Chumbawamba starts playing.

But Transport for London (TfL) have disclosed that Banksy’s piece was promptly removed “some days ago” in line with its “strict anti-graffiti policy“.

Banksy’s artwork responds to recent debates concerning the effectiveness of face coverings in the fight against coronavirus in the UK. On 15 June face coverings became compulsory on public transport in England, yet until recently it was unclear if this legislation would roll out to other public spaces. Prime Minister Boris Johnson confirmed this week that wearing a mask will become mandatory in shops from Friday 24 July.

TfL said that it approved of Banksy’s “sentiment of encouraging people to wear face coverings … we’d like to offer Banksy the chance to do a new version of his message for our customers in a suitable location.”

Since lockdown began in March, the mysterious graffiti artist has remained highly active. He released a series of photographs in April captioned “My wife hates it when I work from home”, which exhibited more stencilled rats wreaking havoc in his bathroom. The following month, Banksy commended the heroic work of the NHS with a piece given to Southampton General Hospital.   

His latest work has been widely praised on social media, with British illustrator and artist Paul Jackson stating: “Awesome as always.” However, TFL has received some backlash for destroying an artwork that could have been worth hundreds of thousands. “This criticism of TfL is nuts,” remarked Dan Hodges, commentator for the Mail on Sunday. “You don’t pull carriages out of service and say “great, how can we can make money from this”. It’s a transport network, not an art auction house. And if he wants them to benefit he can sell one and give TfL the money.”

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