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Street Art or Graffiti? Why Banksy's Notts Visit Shouldn't Distract from the City's Own Artists

24 October 20 words: Alex Kuster
photos: Simon Bernacki, Skate Nottingham & Curtis Powell

Alex Kuster looks at the recent media circus surrounding Banksy's visit to Notts, and why local street artists aren't treated with the same level of respect...

The hype’s real, after much speculation and surprising graffiti-related media coverage, Notts has a real, bonafide Banksy. If you haven’t seen it yet, you’ve probably been living under a rock. But on the corner of Rothesay Avenue in Lenton, you can find Nottingham’s newest addition. The piece features a young girl hula-hooping with a bike tire, and Banksy even went the extra mile by using a broken bike as a prop which is chained to a pole. Being in Lenton, the piece is most likely a homage to the Raleigh factory. 

People from far and wide have flocked to the city to see the piece, it’s blown up on social media and the news with many saying that Nottingham was due some good news. This was, after all, the same week in which Notts was making headlines for having the most COVID cases in the country. 

Yes it’s fun and uplifting. But what about Notts’ own talent? Do they face the same celebration? Would they get a similar slot on BBC primetime? What is it that differentiates street art to graffiti?

The piece was covered in Perspex pretty quickly and, although art critics across Nottingham weren’t so sure it was Banksy’s work, the artist confirmed it in his typical illusive fashion through an Instagram post. 

Once the cover was up, local tagger ‘CHEM’ tagged across, making people question what the real difference was between the two pieces. Yeah, one might be more pleasing on the eye for most. But the beauty of street art is surely down to expressing yourself. 

Glitch artist Displaced/Replaced went as far to say, “Chem was always bound to be the first one to tag it - he's probably the most prolific tagger in Notts”. And those who pay attention to the Notts scene will know that their tags are absolutely everywhere. 

He continued, “Generally, I think it's a very positive thing to have happened in Notts. However, I think the way some people - mainly the Council - have reacted to it is dubious. For example, the Council said that they were waiting for it to be confirmed as to whether the perspex would stay there or not. This demonstrates a total ignorance in relation to the great street artists that Notts already has, and also demonstrates that they only deem art as being worthy if it has monetary value.”

I wanted to have a look and see if the public had responded to any of Chem’s other tags, seeing as there was so much upset about them doing it over the Banksy. It’s interesting that BBC Nottingham choose to use the word "vandalised", which clearly holds quite negative connotations. I personally think that Chem was polite by waiting for the cover to be over. Why does Chem get condoned whilst Banksy’s the talk of the town?

It's like he’s the Queen and can just do whatever, and us lot get criminal records for it

I wanted to know if the local media had covered any stories on graffiti before and, if they did, what they had to say. Upon my search I found an article from The Nottingham Post titled “£1.5k clean-up after 'huge' graffiti tags found along canal”. It went on to say that “around 40 tags of graffiti found in Nottingham will cost more than £1,000 to clean up.”

So it's positive that street art in general is getting some credit, but negative that everything ends up reverting back to capitalism. Fair enough.

There’s a ridiculous amount of street art on our doorstep. Only a few days after Banksy’s piece broke the media, Skate Nottingham spent the day with local artists Dilk, FFWIH, Fryfaced and Scarce to repaint garage units in Sneinton and add some colour to the local community. Using some money from their grant, they bought paint from Montana and gave the artists a further £50 voucher for their time. Tom Quigley from Skate Nottingham said that they were “keen to make sure our guys weren’t working for free” which so often is the case in the art world. 

Other local artists had opinions on it too. FFWIH said he’s on board with Chem tagging Banksy’s piece because one rule applies to one and one to another: “It's like he’s the Queen and can just do whatever, and us lot get criminal records for it, just because the majority think Banksy is ‘art’ and everything else is graffiti.” He said that the speed in which he tagged it starts a conversation with the Council about how limited spots to legally paint are. It’s definitely apparent that street art is often condemned and not given a second look. 

The Nottingham Post went as far as publishing a whole post about removing the tags, like that’s huge news and the community has been reassured. FFWIH’s view of art stands as this, “Art is about creating questioning and making people think differently. That’s what a tag does - starts a conversation, no right or wrong. It's all a personal choice of aesthetics. I would much rather see a tag than another stencil.”

Third on the firing line, we have Soz Mate, who went as far as to do a social experiment and paint a 'Banksy' of his own to see what would happen. It took only a matter of days. He questioned why the Council have such a negative and immediate response to any other graffiti in Nottingham.

He put the question out to his Instagram followers to see what they thought, all seemed to have pretty similar opinions in wanting to support our homegrown talent. Soz Mate said in response, “If only they put time into supporting and nurturing the talent that’s already located here. We could have an artist from our own city creating a buzz as big or bigger than Banksy. He’s actually old news on the scene and I will post more artists and more resources over the rest of the week.” 

If you’re interested in having a look at Nottingham’s own graffiti artists. Sneinton Market is a great place to start. There’s loads of art across the boarded up building site at the end. When you’re walking through the city, open your eyes because art is everywhere and that’s a great thing to have on your doorstep.

Soz Mate
Fry Faced
Art in Unexpected Places

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