Dustin Luke Nelson
There has been a lot of talk flying around message boards, blogs, and even reputable papers and magazines like Time and The Guardian about the potential unmasking of Banksy. For those who are somehow unfamiliar with one of the most influential artists alive, Banksy is a street artist whose whole persona has relied on the fact that no one knows who Banksy is. He started has a regular tagger in London, and has evolved into an international criminal and hero. Creating a Guantanamo prisoner blow up at Disneyland, tagging the walls of the West Bank, recreating works like the Mona Lisa and sneaking them into the Louvre, tagging the front steps of the Tate Modern with a “Mind the Crap” stencil. Banksy has helped to legitimize street art, bringing it into galleries, both undercover and legitimately.
All the while, through books on his work, huge installations and international fame, the mystery of Banksy has remained much like the mystery of Batman. People have searched – especially the law – and no one has been certain who Banksy is.
Recently a 2004 photo in Jamaica and some research done by a UK paper have revealed that Banksy might possibly be Robin Gunningham. The facts are that the 2004 photo shows Robin Gunningham crouched over a Banksy stencil holding a can of spray paint. It was revealed that Gunningham was a middle class art student in the UK with an interest in street art. Interviews with former friends and roommates have revealed that he was a good artist in many mediums and that, at that point, he was not spraying, and was not Banksy. Representatives of Banksy (do they know who he is?) are saying that the man in the photo is not, in fact, Banksy.
So the debate has raged online. Many say that, since the photo has existed for years, the papers are just trying to stir up a little bit of controversy. Others are claiming that it has taken this long to put together the facts and truly figure out who Robin Gunningham is.
I think the real question here is why are we trying to unmask one of the greatest artists of our time? Surely many law enforcement agencies would like to have him unmasked and prosecuted, but does the press really want to be to blame for that? If there is any follow through here, and they can prove Gunningham is Banksy, what are the real implications of that?
There is an “I am Spartacus” sort of reaction going on around the globe right now. No one wants to see him unmasked, as curious as we all are. But there is certainly the potential that many “Banksy’s” have been done by other artists–the potential for being a copycat of an unknown person is there. Printing of “I am Robin Gunningham” shirts has already begun, so to the backlash towards the people ripping the mask off of a hero.
Dustin Luke Nelson is a founding editor of InDigest Magazine. His writing and interviews have appeared in that magazine as well as at The Favorite 10 blog, Rift Magazine, TC Planet, and in other places.
Copyright 2008 Dustin Luke Nelson