I’ve lived in North London for almost five years. I’m not a Londoner by birth – I grew up in a little town that most people have only heard of because it has a train station that goes to more interesting places. It’s called Havant (cue lots of jokes about the haves and have-nots) but Havant has a beach, some nice pubs, a harbour, and some rather lovely and interesting history (the town dates back to Roman times, had a natural spring and was a hub for parchment making). Now, having lived in Birmingham and London I am in love with living in cities. I love the atmosphere, the bustle, the mix of people, and particularly the arts scene and how this spills out of galleries, theatres, and performance spaces into the street.
Until very recently I’ve been based in Turnpike Lane, North London. It’s not the nicest area, but it’s close to nice areas, it has amazing grocery shops, and really good Turkish restaurants. When I first moved there I absolutely loved it but not long after, the area around the station started to roughen up. There would be police and sniffer dogs at the entrances and a couple of raids happened. And then this time last year a man was shot in the street, in broad daylight, allegedly linked to local drug gang clashes. Here’s the Guardian article on the incident if you want to read more.
So when I woke up one day to hear that Poundland had been hit by street art satirist Banksy (article here) I was massively excited. Excited in an in-your-face-poundland-stick-it-to-the-man-oh-blimey-this-might-be-a-well-needed-spotlight-on-turnpike-lane-and-catalyst-for-change-in-the-area kind of way.
And then, just like that, the artwork goes; the hole is filled, a community is left gasping, and someone is about to make a lot of money. Now the artwork has just been pulled from auction and various authorities are looking into the question of what happens to that piece next, but the whole incident has stirred up a lot of questions and issues for me.
At what point did street art, something that is meant to be such a wholly subversive art form, an act of artistic expression in the public eye, for the public, painted on man-made landscape, and traditionally NOT protected from being painted over, removed, covered, become an item to own, auction and display?
At what point did we get so territorial that a splash of paint on a wall that brought excitement and pride to area became an accepted way of making a quick buck?
Why on earth is art such an expensive commodity anyway? I do understand that part of the reason is artworks role as a status symbol, but would you really want a piece of concrete anti-capitalism mocking your own opulence hanging in your multi-million pound lounge?
If the piece was sold it would have gone for around 400,000 USD. The borough of Haringey has one of the most unequal spreads of money across London, with a large percentage of residents either very rich or very poor. Turnpike Lane was also hit badly in the riots in 2011. And now something good comes to the area; something that brought visitors and media attention, and it’s plucked away by the building owner. I wonder which side of the poverty split they sit in?
Ultimately the anti-capitalist work has been taken for monetary personal gain, at the considerable cost of a community’s pride and excitement in their own area.
The few positives I can take from this:
I have now discovered the Turnpike Art Group. Their ethos is that “the urban landscape, and the lives of its residents, can be improved through the introduction of visually-appealing and stimulating art and design – through an awareness of the environment and natural forms, as well as heritage, and the narrative of local history” which instantly makes me a fan of their work and how beneficial their existence is for the area. Beautiful areas make people happy. happy people look after their areas. Win Win. Their website also gives a really clear story of what has happened to the Banksy wall since which brings me on to positive number two…
The blank space left behind has become a story of protest in itself; a dialogue between other street artists in the community. Immediately a Banksy style ratty appeared holding a forlorn sign asking ‘why?’. Since then a Nun silenced by Do Not Cross tape and a ‘danger thieves’ warning have been added. The void left has created a space for expression that is ever changing; just as street art should be.