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Banksy artwork stolen from Peckham streets within an hour of its unveiling

Two men were seen taking down a piece of Banksy artwork from a South London street on Friday, less than an hour after the artist confirmed its installation and authenticity on Instagram. The piece features three missile drones on a red stop sign, interpreted as an anti-war statement by the artist and support for a ceasefire in the Israel-Gaza conflict.


The piece is believed to have been stolen; it is understood that Banksy was not a part of its removal.


A video shared online showed the two men removing the sign from the intersection of Commercial Way and Southampton Way in Peckham around 12:30 pm. Several onlookers witnessed the sign being taken, with some saying “oh my god” in the background of the video as the man runs off with the sign, and one woman saying “It makes me so annoyed”.



A man taking down a Banksy artwork, depicting three drones on a traffic stop sign, unveiled in Peckham, South-East London . Photograph: Aaron Chown/PA


 


One of the men was photographed standing on top of a Lime bike whilst taking down the installation, before running off into the neighbouring street. A witness said that the onlookers began shouting at the pair as they removed the sign with pliers.


They said: "He arrived the first time, the bloke, and tried to climb up to the sign and then couldn't quite knock it, the sign, of its hinges, just with his hand.”


"So then he went away and then came back with a pair of bolt cutters and climbed up on the bike.


He fell off the first time. Then his mate steadied the bike and then he climbed back up again and just bashed the sign off the hinges and then ran off."


"As soon as [the artwork] went up online, a few people cycled down to it to see it straight away and just sort of hung around.


"When he started trying to knock it off a few people were shouting for him to stop but he just carried on and that's when he realised he couldn't get it off with just his hands and had to get some bolt cutters."



One of the men running away with the stop sign whilst a crowd gathers round to witness the theft. Photo: Aaron Chown/PA Media


 


A 26 year old witness called Alex, said: “I opened Instagram and I saw it was posted four minutes before and I was about to go on my lunch break. There were about two people there when I got there. We were all sort of admiring it and taking pictures.


“This guy comes up and grabs it, we watched in awe as he bashed it. He put the Lime bike under the sign, stood on the Lime bike and tried to hit the sign, he hit it with his hands and it wasn’t going anywhere.


“He fell off the Lime bike at one point. He disappeared and went away and about two minutes later he reappeared with bolt cutters and just sort of tried and tried and tried while everyone was watching.


“We said ‘what are you doing?’ but no one really knew what to do, we sort of just watched it happen. We were all a bit bemused; there was some honking of car horns.


“He ripped it off and ran across the road and ran away. He said nothing. He didn’t seem to care that much about the art itself. There was someone else there but I don’t know if they were together.


“I went there thinking that people want that, I wanted to see it before something happened to it. Before it was taken, someone else said ‘shall we take it?'”


The Metropolitan police stated that they were aware of the removal and that a new stop sign was installed later that day to avoid causing danger to road users. The deputy leader of Southwark council, Jasmine Ali, commented that the piece “should not have been removed”, adding “We’d like it back so everyone in the community can enjoy Banksy’s brilliant work”. She said that the removal had been reported to the police.


The Banksy piece ‘Valentine's Day Mascara’ on the side of a building in Margate, England. Photo: Gareth Fuller / PA Images via Getty Images


The Banksy piece ‘Valentine's Day Mascara’ on the side of a building in Margate, England. Photo: Gareth Fuller / PA Images via Getty Images


 


Banksy's paintings have been subject to multiple theft attempts over the years. In 2022, three men were imprisoned in France for the theft and handling of a Banksy work that paid respects to the victims of the 2012 attack at the Bataclan concert hall in Paris. In December 2022 in a separate attempt, eight people were detained for stealing a Banksy mural on a wall in Hostomel, Ukraine, which featured a figure holding a fire extinguisher, wearing a dressing gown and gas mask.


John Brandler, an Essex gallery owner selling the works of Banksy, suggested that the stolen work could be worth more than £500,000. “The media attention has made it more valuable” he said.


Banksy will provide certificates of authenticity towards pieces that are not considered to be stolen or illegally authorised into private possession, through the artist’s authenticity Pest Control team.


The aircraft on the installation heavily resembles those from ‘Civilian Drone Strike’, Banksy’s 2017 art piece, which depicts three similar missile drones flying over a framed childlike drawing of a house being bombed, with a stick-man figure and dog looking on. It was put up for auction at Art the Arms Fair and raised £205,000 for Reprieve and Campaign Against Arms Trade.


Banksy has created several other pieces in 2023, including ‘Valentine’s day Mascara’, a mural depicting a 1950s housewife with a missing tooth and a black eye, wearing marigolds and an apron, pushing a man (assumedly her husband) into a freezer. The mural weighed 3.8 tonnes and was installed on the outside of a house in Margate, Kent on 14th February 2023, Valentine’s Day.


Banksy often creates social statements in his artwork, particularly in 2020 where he alluded heavily to the COVID-19 pandemic.


 


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