Photo: Folkestone Herald

Katie Heslop discusses whether the recent vandalism on the Banky work in Folkestone was necessarily vandalism as graffiti, itself, is vandalism.

Residents of Folkestone were aghast last week when they saw the work of anonymous graffiti artist Banksy had been defaced in their town centre. The piece, known as `Art buff` originally showed a woman staring at an empty plinth, but overnight a giant penis had been sprayed on the plinth over the transparent barrier.

This incident raises interesting questions regarding grafittis’ status as art and whether graffiti can be vandalised when it is classes as vandalism anyway.

It would be hard to argue that Banksy’s murals are not art. En route to Wales five or so years ago I went to a Banksy exhibition in Bristol, where I was struck by his depictions of a crumbling Britain. Through his graffiti Banksy illuminates the social inequalities which plague Britain, sending out a message which the public takes notice of. In my view this is what art should do. And isn’t it wrong to vandalise art? I’m sure the Louvre would not be too happy if the Mona Lisa had a mullet drawn on her. With this in my mind it is morally and lawfully wrong to vandalise Banksys’ work?

But, we are not just discussing Banksys’ graffiti – whether you think graffiti can be vandalised depends on your view of what constitutes vandalism. What if, a graffiti artist adds to someone’s original work and improves it or gives it an alternative meaning? In my mind this is not vandalism, but rather one artist taking inspiration from another. The graffiti on the Berlin Wall is a good example of this, where artists often merge their work into another piece.

However graffiti is often mindlessly abused and altered, as seen through the Banksy at Folkestone. In this case, the graffiti has been defiled and vandalised. The original graffiti is someone’s artistic and intellectual property, even if the original is not supposed to be there at all. But, now I find myself in a cloud of grey. If it is vandalism to graffiti someone else’s work poorly why do I think it is acceptable to add to someone’s work even if it does (in my view) improve it? The original artist might not have wanted anything added to it, and the addition might have undermined his original meaning. Beautiful vandalism is still vandalism.

Kent police have said they will investigate the incident, and I’m guessing if the culprit is found there will be repercussions. I hope it is nothing more than a telling off, because there are far worse things for one to do, and I doubt very much whether the incident would have been followed up if it wasn’t for Banksys’ fame – an example of the skewed law system and a fame obsessed culture which Bansky himself would condemn.

Do you think the added graffiti on Banky’s work was vandalism? Comment below…