The ephemeral nature of graffiti and mural work is always in some state of jeopardy. The medium itself embodies a transience that of course is understood and expected by those involved in its creation. But more often than not, we expect a Banksy to persevere more or less indefinitely. With the recent destruction of an already targeted work commemorating and criticizing the United Kingdom leaving the European Union, it’s a reminder that even a legend’s works in this field are susceptible to erasure.
When the UK moved to leave the European Union in the late 2010s—the movement commonly known as “Brexit”—it sent a tumultuous ripple across the nation. With a wealth of artists staunchly opposing the idea as it marched through the proper channels across the years, this piece of Banksy’s work cropped up on a building in Dover in 2017.
The understated mural could easily be passed by without understanding any artistic endeavour is at work. Comprised largely of the bright blue and staunch series of stars that make up the EU’s flag, Banksy’s signature style is found in the bottom right corner—a worker atop a ladder chiselling away at one of the stars as it breaks away in pieces, descending downward. Simplistic in its depiction of a national schism, the unnamed painting drew widespread attention to the major port town amidst the political turmoil.
It was in 2019 that the mural first saw an attempted destruction with a complete whitewashing of the flag depicted. All that remained was the man on the ladder and a single, crude star before him with a rough depiction of the flag crumpled at the ground. While it could be seen as a typical Banksy stunt, the artist expressed his own surprise on Instagram at the time: “Oh. I had planned that on the day of Brexit I was going to change the piece in Dover to this. But seems they’ve painted over it. Nevermind. I guess a big white flag says it just as well.”
Now, after many a year and planning from the Dover City Council, the building and what remains of the work has come down. They state they were not part of the endeavour of whitewashing it, and had the demolition group slated for destroying the building for future developments save what they could of the original piece. But just as with the UK’s departure from the European Union, it seems far too late to get back the semblance of what was.