The district council for Clacton-on-Sea has removed a Banksy piece following complaints of racism. The mural, which depicts pigeons standing on a wire holding signs saying ‘back to Africa’ and ‘migrants not welcome’, was painted overnight in the week preceding a local by-election, and argued to be triggered by local conservative MP, Douglas Carswell, shifting parties to UKIP.
This mural was a corresponding protest against UKIP’s policies on immigration within the UK, but the local council deemed the mural offensive because of the racist speech of the pigeons. This brings into question the political potency of satire in art, whereby Banksy’s reiteration of racist speech was meant as protest, but its close similarity to actual racist discussions meant that public viewing of the piece could miss this message.
Satire is often protected by the law, for this very reason – to ensure that imitation is possible in a way that challenges or in some way critiques the original sentiment. Along a similar vein, a shop in America was legally ran and owned privately under the name ‘Dumb Starbucks’ – the shop featured Starbucks branding, Starbucks drinks, Starbucks uniforms, and simply put the word ‘dumb’ in front of every menu item and the shop itself which protected the shop from copyright infringement under copyright law. The resemblance in the legal sense was seen as parody rather than copied and thus acceptable. The difference for this piece is the racial incitation that could occur by having such art pieces prominently displayed in public settings when their meaning could not come across. Law, land economy, HSPS, and PPE students should look at this case study as a way to investigate how UK governments regulate political protest.
Art and history students should read further on the use of murals in political protest, and a particularly strong and localized example to this news piece would be the murals within Derry’s city walls which began in the Troubles and continues to this day, with over 2000 murals documented since the 1970s.Seeing murals as a significant point of public political commentary shows perhaps differing political climates in Northern Ireland to mainland UK, and gives a counterpoint to the UK’s stricter regulation.