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BANKSY

Banksy confirms Paris street art ‘blitz’ a tribute to rebels of 1968

Street artist Banksy has confirmed that he "blitzed" Paris with a dozen murals as a tribute to the May 1968 uprising, taking aim at the French government's hard line on migrants in some of them.

Banksy confirms Paris street art 'blitz' a tribute to rebels of 1968
Photo: AFP
Stencilled images in the style of the mysterious British graffiti star began appearing on walls across the French capital last week.
   
All were unsigned, leaving a lingering doubt that they might have been by a imitator.
   
But late Monday the Bristol-based artist posted his latest two Paris murals on Instagram — neither of which had yet been found by his fans.
   
“Fifty years since the uprising in Paris 1968. The birthplace of modern stencil art,” he quipped under a self-portrait as a masked rat carrying a utility knife that he uses to cut out his stencils.
 
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 New 'Banksy' mural appears next to Bataclan in ParisPhoto: AFP   

Cheekily he sprayed it on the back of a road sign outside the Pompidou centre modern art gallery, which houses Europe's biggest collection of contemporary art.
   
Banksy took on the rat as his avatar — a symbol of the vilified and downtrodden — in hommage to the Paris street artist Blek le Rat, who started out in 1986 when a general strike by students and workers brought France to a halt. 
   
The movement produced an explosion of street art and ingenious graffiti slogans, some of which have become legendary.
   
Banksy sprayed another rat wearing a Minnie Mouse bow under the caption “May 1968” near the Sorbonne university over the weekend, one of the centres 
of the uprising, which was read as a wry take on the decline of French revolutionary spirit.
 
Mural defaced
 
The Disneyland Paris theme park just outside Paris is now one of the French capital's biggest employers.
   
The artist, known for his sharp political and social commentary, made headlines Sunday with another Paris mural of a refugee child covering up a swastika sprayed over the patch of pavement on which she was sleeping.
   
Placing it right next to a former refugee centre closed down in March by the French government was seen as an attack on President Emmanuel Macron's crackdown on migrants.
   
Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo, who set up the centre, was quick to hail the mural. “Sometimes an image is worth a thousand words. Humanity and pragmatism rather than populism,” she tweeted in a dig at Macron, who had argued the shelter was making Paris a magnet for migrants.
   
In his first clandestine “blitz” of the French capital, Banksy also created a image of girl huddled in mourning in a fire exit next to the Bataclan concert hall, where 90 people were massacred by jihadist gunmen in November 2015.
   
His final stencil — which he posted to his Instagram account on Monday evening — shows a genteel old rat couple out for a walk along the River Seine near the Eiffel Tower.
   
Banksy's work has sold for more than $1 million at auction, and fans have already covered some of the new Paris works with Plexiglass to protect them. 
   
However, his mural of the migrant girl was defaced with blue spray paint late on Sunday after news of its discovery spread on social media (see below).
 
The defaced mural of a migrant girl. Photo: AFP
   
Many believe Banksy to be musician Robert Del Naja, a 52-year-old member of the Bristol-based trip hop trio Massive Attack.
   
The band are playing the French city of Lyon on Sunday.

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ART

IN DEPTH: How police reclaimed a stolen Bataclan Banksy in Italy

A stolen cutter, CCTV footage, phone taps, loose-tongued suspects... this is how an artwork by famed street artist Banksy painted on the door of the Bataclan club in Paris was discovered in Italy 18 months after being stolen.

IN DEPTH: How police reclaimed a stolen Bataclan Banksy in Italy
Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte (L) and French ambassador to Italy Christian Masset take part in a handover ceremony of the piece of art attributed to street artist Banksy, that was stolen at th

At 4:00 am on January 26, 2019, three men wearing hoodies and masks take a cutting tool to the metal door of the Bataclan.

It is not just any old door, but the emergency exit of the famous Parisian music venue where 90 people were murdered by Islamic State gunmen on November 13, 2015.

The stencilled white image is of a “sad young girl” in homage to the victims of the Bataclan attack.

It is all over in just a few minutes: the thieves load the door into the back of the Citroen van, whose number plate has been made illegible, according to captured CCTV footage.

“It was an important investigation” for the officers, some of whom had worked on the Bataclan attack, a source close to the case tells AFP.

By “honing in” on phones located in the vicinity of the Bataclan at the time and then along the route taken by the getaway van, tracked using surveillance cameras, police are able to identify and tap the lines.

A year later, police detain three men suspected of breaking into a DIY shop in the Isere department in southeastern France.

A cutting tool is among the stolen objects and one of the suspects boasts of having been involved in a break-in in Paris.

With a link now established between the suspects and the theft of Banksy's “the sad young girl”, police use wire-taps and surveillance to track down the receivers of the stolen artwork.

According to the investigators' findings, the artwork is taken to first to Isere, then to the south of France and from there on to Italy.

'Like trying to re-sell the Mona Lisa' 

In Italy, the painting is initially hidden in a hotel in Tortoreto, in the central region of Abruzzo. But when the hotel undergoes renovation work, it is relocated to an abandoned farm in Sant'Omero, some 15 kilometres (nine miles) away.

The hotel's owner, an acquaintance of one of the men suspected of receiving stolen goods, Mehdi Meftah, says he did not know what the bulky package contained.

Police decide to detain the whole gang, but the arrests are hampered by the coronavirus lockdown, the source tells AFP. In a joint operation with Italian police, the investigators seize “the sad young girl” in Abruzzo on June 10.

The attendant publicity forces police to speed up the arrests and a total of nine people are detained in France in the following days.

Two are charged with robbery in an organised gang and another four with receiving stolen goods, including Mehdi Meftah.

 

The 39-year-old, with his bouncer-like looks and tattoos, founded the luxury T-shirt brand “BL1.D”, which has an 18-carat gold ingot sewn into the neckline. He is suspected of ordering the theft.

“His accomplices say he wanted to keep the door for one of his houses,” says the source close to the investigation, acknowledging that trying to re-sell such an artwork would be “very difficult”.

“It would be like trying to re-sell the Mona Lisa,” his lawyer, Yves Sauvayre, tells the weekly newspaper, Journal du dimanche, denying his client had ordered the theft.

“He was presented with a fait accompli. He agreed to take the door in order accepted to help out old acquaintances.

He didn't pay a penny,” the lawyer says. At the moment, the artwork, handed back to France by the Italian authorities, is under seal and is being guarded by Paris police.

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