White Washing London for the Olympics?
The London Olympic Games have drawn a lot of attention to the major city in the weeks leading up the big opening night, and the attention has not always been positive. This week, London is in the spotlight again for attempting to strip the city of street art, including pieces composed by the world-renowned artist Banksy.
London is known by many as an eclectic niche for street art appreciation but the BBC notes that certain areas of the city are getting fresh coats of white paint on pieces of art that have been in place for a number of years, while other areas of the city are left intact. London officials claim that they always remove graffiti from walls when it is complained about.
Yet, there is something slightly fishy about the whole enterprise. This month street artist Mau Mau painted a large image of a Ronald McDonald-like clown carrying a blackened Olympic torch on a warehouse wall in Ealing where he had permission to paint. The piece was meant to comment on the corporate greed of the Olympics. And if you have been keeping pace with the state of the Olympics workers’ living quarters or where those cute toy mascots are being made, this kind of statement has some valuable meaning. Unfortunately, the piece was whitewashed out of existence within six days.
It sounds as if even Banksy may be facing tougher sanctions on his work. An editorial in The Guardian notes that many street artists have been banned from Olympic arenas and public transport during the events, in an attempt to bar more art from going up around the city. Suddenly, certain areas of London are getting a new coat of white paint.
Officials claim this has always been the policy. As a spokesperson for the Ealing Council told the BBC:
“This is in line with our policy to remove all reported graffiti as soon as possible, unless we have been made aware in advance that it is there with the consent of the building owner and it is not offensive,” she added.
Ms Bingham said it was good that councils were removing graffiti. “It’s nice that the whole country is getting a facelift. Graffiti makes an area look neglected and unloved and it impacts how people feel about an area,” she said.
“We have a million extra people coming here so we want them to see the area looking its best.”
Banksy has revealed a few of his most recent pieces in the lead up to the Olympics on his website. They are stark stenciled pieces meant to reflect on the consumerism of the Games. One piece shows the image of a young boy hunched over a sewing machine crafting a piece of clothing or an object. The piece most likely refers to the many uniforms and mascots that have been made in appalling conditions in Chinese factories.
Officials may be worried that such art hits much too close to home in the wake of multiple controversies surrounding safety, transport and corruption in the lead-up to the games. That editorial in the Guardian suggests a major conflict between many residents of London and event organizers:
London will never be a shining city on a hill, a clean and crystalline utopia. Its finest culture has always been its most scabrous culture – from Hogarth to the street artists who are so unwelcome at the Olympics. Were ever a city and a sporting spectacle so ill-matched?