Whoops! Banksy graffiti scrubbed by council after racism complaint

Story highlights

  • Council graffiti team in Clacton-on-Sea removes a Banksy image from a seafront building
  • The image showed pigeons directing anti-immigration signs toward an exotic-looking bird
  • An election is taking place after a local MP defected to UKIP, which wants to limit migration
  • Council spokesman says Banksy is welcome to return any time to do an "appropriate" work
What do you do if a potentially valuable Banksy graffiti work appears on one of your buildings? If you're the local council in the English seaside resort of Clacton-on-Sea, the answer is: remove it fast.
The image, painted in Banksy's distinctive style on a nondescript seafront building, showed a group of pigeons holding signs saying "Migrants not welcome," "Go back to Africa" and "Keep off our worms" directed at a more exotically plumed bird.
To most observers, it would appear to be a sharp piece of social commentary highlighting anti-immigration rhetoric, but it sparked a complaint Tuesday to the local council that it was itself offensive and racist.
The Tendring District Council's graffiti team moved in, and as of Wednesday morning, the Banksy was no more, the council's communications manager, Nigel Brown, told CNN.
The officers did not realize the mural they were removing was by the famously anonymous graffiti artist Banksy, he said.
But at the same time, if they considered that the image could be seen by some people as offensive or racist, they had a responsibility to remove it, he said.
"It's damned if you do, damned if you don't," Brown said. "But there is a 'whoops it's a Banksy' moment."
Banksy's social comment comes at a sensitive time in local politics. A special election is taking place on October 9, triggered by the defection of the Essex district's member of Parliament from the Conservative Party to UKIP.
Immigration is a key issue for the two parties, with UKIP committed to limiting the number of migrants entering Britain.
'Appropriate' Banksy work
It was only after the council was contacted by the media over a photo of the work on Banksy's website that the council realized what it had -- briefly -- had, Brown said. All that remains is a discolored smudge on the wall.
"We would obviously welcome an appropriate Banksy original on any of our seafronts and would be delighted if he returned in the future," he said.
An "appropriate" work would have to be something that would fit into a "family seaside resort," he said.
The words on the mural could have caused distress, Brown added, if the reader did not understand the irony. "It's not the sort of thing we would want to be on one of our own buildings in Clacton," he said.
Other Banksy artworks have become tourist attractions in their own right or have been snapped up by collectors willing to spend big bucks.
A work spray-painted on a door at a youth center in the English city of Bristol, showing a couple embracing while checking their cell phones, was sold at auction in August for 403,000 pounds (more than $650,000), according to UK media reports, with the proceeds going to the youth club.
It seems Clacton-on-Sea won't get to reap similar benefits.