Recently, while walking through a council estate in Wood Green where I live, I noticed a small boy repeatedly throwing a basketball against a sign that clearly read 'No Ball Games'. Now, I don't know whether kids are subversive at age 10 or just naughty, but this was a deliciously brazen act. He was bouncing the ball, I believe it's called dribbling, and then using the sign as his 'hoop'. If only I'd had a camera to hand (oh but wait, it's illegal to photograph minors...as my brother recently found out when trying to take a photograph of his own son at a cafe). I particularly liked how the basketball kid looked around occasionally, just to check if anyone was looking. It was genius, and added a needed touch of comedy to an otherwise bleak scene of garages, concrete and prohibitive signs.
A couple of days later while reading the Tottenham and Wood Green Journal, I happened across an article featuring a Banksy story. Banksy has come to Tottenham and given us a beautiful new piece of art. What is interesting about this story, as with all Banksy street art, is the debate about what should be done with the piece. The owner of the building (which houses a Polish grocery shop and, I believe, a kebab shop) clearly has the right to remove the painting (as has been done many times in London before people cottoned on to the fact that Banksy is one of our greatest current artists). Apparently the owner is still debating what to do about it. Haringey council meanwhile, not wanting to appear culturally ignorant, have erected a Perspex shield around the piece to protect it and "to draw visitors to the area". Hahaha...if you have ever been to this junction in the heart of Tottenham you will know why NO visitors will EVER be drawn here by ANYTHING....it's grim). Perspex, you will recall, also covers a Banksy piece on Essex Road. While the reflective plastic does tend to deface and emasculate these pieces somewhat, at least councils are now protecting them, and drawing attention to them rather than chemically removing them.
It is, however, an interesting dilemma. If the owner is a Neanderthal and has never heard of Banksy he could have it removed. Which brings us to an interesting debate about ownership; who really does ‘own’ this piece? Can the artist claim ownership or is he technically a vandal? Does the building owner have the right to remove, alter, cover or indeed sell it as his own personal property? Does this piece of art belong to the community at large and everybody who walks past it and beholds it? I do not have the answers to these questions but I do feel that areas like Tottenham deserve this kind of adornment. This is now (hopefully) a permanent artwork on display and touching local people’s everyday lives. It is exactly the kind of subversion of the restrictions society places upon individuals that De Certeau would be proud of. In areas with bleak prospects and living environments, the inspiration, aesthetic uplift and humour that such work can bring is invaluable.
I also feel strongly that senior figures within the artistic community should do more to encourage high quality street art. In cities like Lisbon or Paris I have seen vibrant examples of street art which appear to be understood and celebrated by the local residents and artist communities. London, meanwhile, until fairly recently had a blanket policy of removing any so-called ‘graffiti’ from its streets. Artists such as Banksy have made great strides in altering perceptions and, indeed, differentiating between ‘tagging’ artists, whose mission is to simply proliferate their monolithic symbols as widely as they can, and ‘real’ street artists.
To end, I refer back to the aforementioned ball-throwing kid and share with you some of the thoughts that his wanton act instigated in my mind: Was he referencing Banksy in his act of juvenile delinquency? Was he sending out a big 'fuck you' to Haringey council, to the government, to the state, to the authorities who create these stupid signs? Will he be the next Michael Jordan and grow up to tell the stories of how he used to have to use a sign for a hoop? Will he grow up to be a nihilist, an anarchist, an agitator, a political activist, an anti-capitalist demonstrator, a football hooligan? Was it simply that he could not speak English, or was perhaps illiterate, and therefore couldn't understand the sign or the significance of his act? Or was he just a naughty kid chucking a ball against a sign? Whatever the facts behind this extraordinary sight are, it was a beautiful, beautiful thing to observe. Thank you small boy, whoever you are.
And you can read/see more about Banksy and other street art from around the world at this rather pleasant website
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