TEL AVIV, ISRAEL (AP) – A long-lost painting by the British graffiti artist Banksy has resurfaced in a swank art gallery in downtown Tel Aviv, an hour’s drive and a world away from the concrete wall in the occupied West Bank where it was initially sprayed.
The relocation of the painting – which depicts a slingshot-toting rat and was likely intended to protest the Israel occupation – raises ethical questions about the removal of artwork from occupied territory and the display of such politically-charged pieces in radically different settings from where they were created.
The painting initially appeared near Israel’s separation barrier in the occupied West Bank city of Bethlehem and was one of several works created in secret around 2007.
Now it resides at the Urban Gallery in the heart of Tel Aviv’s financial district, surrounded by glass and steel skyscrapers.
“This is the story of David and Goliath,” said Israeli art dealer Koby Abergel, who purchased the painting, without elaborating on the analogy. He said the gallery was simply displaying the work, leaving its interpretation to others.
The Associated Press could not independently confirm the authenticity of the piece, but Abergel said the cracks and scrapes in the concrete serve as “a fingerprint” that proves it is the same piece that appears on the artist’s website.
The 70-kilometre journey it made from the West Bank to Tel Aviv is shrouded in secrecy.
The 900-pound concrete slab would have had to pass through Israel’s serpentine barrier and at least one military checkpoint.
Abergel, who is a partner with the Tel Aviv gallery, said he bought the concrete slab from a Palestinian associate in Bethlehem.
He declined to disclose the sum he paid or identify the seller, but insisted on the deal’s legality.
The graffiti artwork was spray-painted on a concrete block that was part of an abandoned Israeli army position in Bethlehem.
Some time later, the painting was itself subjected to graffiti by someone who obscured the painting and scrawled RIP Bansky Rat on the block. Palestinian residents cut out the painting and kept it in private residences until earlier this year, Abergel said.
He said the relocation involved delicate negotiations with his Palestinian associate and careful restoration to remove the acrylic paint sprayed over Banksy’s work.
The massive block was then enclosed in a steel frame so it could be lifted onto a flatbed truck and rolled through a checkpoint, until it arrived in Tel Aviv in the middle of the night.
It was not possible to independently confirm his account of its journey.
The piece now stands on an ornately patterned tile floor, surrounded by other contemporary art.
Gallery’s owner Baruch Kashkash said the roughly two-square-metre block was so heavy it had to be brought inside by a crane, and could barely be moved from the doorway.
Abergel said the artwork’s move was not coordinated with the Israeli military, and that his Palestinian associates, whom he declined to name, were responsible for moving it into Israel and crossing through military checkpoints. He said he has no plans to sell the piece.
A spokesperson for Banksy did not respond to requests for comment.
Abergel said it’s up to viewers to draw their own conclusions about the artwork and its implications.
“We brought it to the main street of Tel Aviv to be shown to the audience and to show his messages,” said Abergel.
“He should be happy with it.”