Story at a glance
- British street artist Banksy created a graffiti work in the London Tube encouraging people to wear face masks and social distance.
- The work has since been removed, according to the city’s transportation agency.
- British media is reporting that a cleaner erased the work without knowing what it was.
The London Underground serves England's most populous city, and it can get dirty. But a cleaner who reportedly thought they were removing waste from rats actually erased Banksy’s latest work, which could have been worth millions, according to some estimates.
The germ-like spray paint depicted a sneeze, coming from a rat spray-painted on the wall of a train car on the London Underground, or “Tube.” It was part of a larger work promoting the use of face masks during the coronavirus pandemic, including rats holding hand sanitizer and using masks as parachutes.
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In a video posted to Banksy’s Instagram account, the words “I get lock down” were spray painted on the wall of a station, followed by the words “But I get up again” on the door of a train car – a play on the song "Tubthumping (I Get Knocked Down)" by Chumbawamba, an English rock band.
On Wednesday, Transport for London told the Independent that the work was removed due to their anti-graffiti policy.
“We appreciate the sentiment of encouraging people to wear face coverings, which the vast majority of customers on our transport network are doing,” a TfL spokesperson told the Independent. “We’d like to offer Banksy the chance to do a new version of his message for our customers in a suitable location.”
But an unnamed source told British news outlets that the work was actually erased by a cleaner who had no idea of its significance.
“When we saw the video, we started to look into it and spoke to the cleaners. It started to emerge that they had noticed some sort of ‘rat thing’ a few days ago and cleaned it off, as they should," a source told the Standard. “It rather changes the aspect for anyone seeking to go down the route of accusing us of cultural vandalism.”
The England-based artist, who has a storied reputation for their timely and poignant public art works, last produced a piece honoring workers on the front lines of the coronavirus pandemic. The country’s hospitals are reporting one of the highest COVID-19 death tolls in the world, even as bars and restaurants open up and social distancing measures are relaxed. But unlike the United States, Britain has a state-funded health care system, the National Health Service, which guarantees care for all permanent residents.
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