While infamous graffiti artist Banksy cashes in on his art, countless others find themselves in jail and in debt for their acts.
Renowned artist Banksy has constructed a reputation based on his critique of big money, big corporations, and big human rights violations. Yet, he makes millions from his artwork, while other young graffiti artists are finding themselves punished and imprisoned for expressing their beliefs in precisely the same way as the elusive artist. For years, the sentencing of graffiti artists and taggers has tended towards heavy-handedness, resulting in continuous debate and criticism from both supporters and opposition.
Contradicting opinions are consistently found regarding the act, with some considering it a vital urban art form, particularly when used to criticize looming political and social issues. Others, however, claim it amounts to nothing more than criminal damage to public and private property. This dichotomy of belief is compounded by the cultural resonance graffiti produces. Banksy’s work sells for thousands and thousands of dollars, is often used as backdrops in newscasts or television programs, and is imitated by countless artists – some even commissioned by large corporations – in an attempt to remain hip and relevant, and yet graffiti artists everywhere are subject to crushing prison sentences and massive fines.
Because prolific artists such as Banksy gravitate more towards publicly owned or corporate spaces, there is arguably no real victim of the crime. It is non-violent, a means of expressing oneself and breaking up the monotony of dull concrete cities and corporate-heavy advertisements. This fact seems to go unnoticed, many artists say.
One of London’s most prolific artists, Harry Conway (aka “Zerx”), was accused of 13 counts of criminal damage in 2012 and ultimately sentenced to 12 months in prison. Conway revealed that during his time in Wormwood Scrubs, he was sometimes locked up for 23 hours a day.
Despite his time served, Conway remains steady in his convictions, stating “I’m not robbing a bank, I’m not killing anyone, I’m not committing serious GBH, to me it seems like madness.” He continued on, describing how “I would be on the same educational courses as people that had murdered their wives and were doing 28 years in jail. It made me think f*** this, I’m nothing to do with these people.”
Taggers are usually tracked, are subject to seizure of computers and phones, and often have their homes raided. As Harry’s father and attorney, Russell Conway, argued, “Our judicial system does sometimes have a predication for guarding property as opposed to the person. In my mind, you can’t have people like Banksy making millions from their artworks and people like Harry being demonized and sent to prison. Going to prison is a very unpleasant thing and should be a sanction of last resort. Sending people to prison for creating an artwork, in my mind is just ridiculous.”
Is Banksy’s ironic success wrong considering how many others are punished for similar acts? Please comment, like, and share!
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