On Friday 22nd December at 12.09pm Banksy revealed via Instagram his first street work since March ’23. Located on the junction of Commercial Way and Southampton Way in Peckham it saw three 3d drones added on the top of an existing hexagonal ‘Stop’ road sign. Banksy’s post contained zero text in the way of context but killing via remote strikes and being anti war has been a subject he has returned to time and again.
Banksy’s three drones artwork originally appeared at his Walled Off Hotel and at ‘Art The Arms Fair‘ – a protest against the DSEI arms fair supported by the UK Government and used to market the latest in killing technology to UK and foreign buyers. The drones are arranged in layout and size to resemble a set of flying ducks that were prevalent in homes in the 1970’s. The drones later made appearances at his Gross Domestic Product store as a limited edition artwork (made of resin, hand painted and titled ‘Duck and Cover’) that could be purchased if you were the lucky winner of a random prize draw .
No specific conflict is mentioned in his post but many instantly saw a connection with the current use of drones to target Palestinians in Gaza. Drones are now a common tool in many conflicts around the world, operated remotely as they bring lethal force from the skies. Their use in Gaza is part of the extensive military operation by Israel that has killed a reported 20000 individuals, including a huge number of women and children, since the October 7th attack by Hamas, along with countless others in the past.
Reporting of the new piece was instantaneous. Within half an hour of its appearance on Banksy’s Instagram, two individuals were seen working together to remove the sign from its post. Onlookers said that an initial attempt failed but after returning with a set bolt cutters a couple of minutes later, the sign was eventually wrenched from its perch. The thieves made no attempt to conceal their faces during this time and after an individual named Alex passed on video of the incident to London Live it quickly garnered interest, and within three hours it was the most read story on the BBC News website and being reported by countless other news organisations including Sky, ITV, Guardian, Telegraph, Mirror, Sun et al.
The timing of all this was extraordinary. Revealed at 12.09, by 12.41 a user on X (Jay Adams) was already posting up photos of the theft. We’re used to Banksy works being removed, cleaned off, defaced within 24 hours but this was a new record. Will the thieves be identified and prosecuted, was the original placement of the drones an offence too? Probably, only time will tell. The artwork itself may prove difficult to move on, certainly no auction house or site would touch it but there are always buyers for items like this – just not at the prices authenticated works would go for.
The things we know for sure are that Banksy is against the use of drones for projecting military force, in fact he always seems on the side of promoting peace. We also know that he has returned to street work following his Cut and Run show earlier in the year which some thought might be the end of this type of activity. I think we’re only at the start of the story of this piece….
What happened next…
Originally the Met Police didn’t seem interested in investigating the vandalism or theft of the sign as no crime had been reported. That changed in part when Southwark Council lodged a formal incident report with Jasmine Ali, the authority’s Deputy Leader, appearing in person in news reports asking for ‘help to get it back’. She said “We are not just talking about a street sign here, it is a work of art which was put there for the community. It is street art and it is for the people”. On X she also added the hashtag ‘getbanksyback‘ to her post. Quite the turnaround and the Met moved swiftly to arrest first one man and then a second. No word yet if the sign has been recovered. The council themselves have replaced the original modified ‘Stop’ sign with another.