It’s been nearly a year since the U.K.-based street artist and provocateur known as Banksy completed over a dozen public art pieces in various locations around New Orleans, including the Faubourg Marigny, Mid-City, Tremé, and the Lower 9th Ward.
The appearance of the pieces coincided with the third anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, and many of the images commented directly or obliquely on issues like government (non-)reponse to the crisis, racial and class divisions in the city of New Orleans, and the persistent efforts of local anti-graffiti vigilante Fred Radtke, aka the “Grey Ghost.”
While the approach of Hurricane Gustav over Labor Day weekend and subsequent evacuation of the city prolonged the lifespan of several of these works for a few extra days, by the middle of September 2008, most of them had been painted over by parties not sympathetic to Banksy’s singular worldview. In one case, a Banksy image was physically sawed off the front of the shotgun house upon which it was painted. (Banksy’s pieces sometimes fetch considerable sums on the secondary market, although the artist has stated that any piece thus removed from its original context and sold without his consent is no longer “an original Banksy.”)
Of the Banksys that do remain in their original locations, some are protected from further damage or obliteration by clear plexiglass that has been attached over their surfaces. And still others have been preserved by the same kind of benign neglect that has preserved so many artifacts from the past here.
In all cases, though, the pieces serve as visual metaphors for the continuing transformation of New Orleans in the years following Hurricane Katrina. Like the storm itself, Banksy’s work has become a potent point of reference in the visual landscape of the city.