It wasn’t easy, but New Orleans hotel owner and real estate developer Sean Cummings has managed to move an 1,600-pound graffiti mural by the British street artist Banksy into the lobby of the International House Hotel at 221 Camp St. where the public can regularly view the post-Katrina icon for the first time since August 2008. It’s a must-see for locals and tourists alike.
Banksy is, after all, the world’s most famous 21st-century artist and the gritty painting is as important to the New Orleans zeitgeist as NOMA’s portrait of Marie Antoinette ever was. More so even , Here’s the backstory:
While New Orleans was distracted by the approach of Hurricane Gustav in August 2008, the secretive graffiti superstar stole into town. He and assistants produceda suite of 15 stencil paintings more-or-less, many of which were poetic commentaries on the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and the flood that had devastated the city three years before.See 11 of Banksy's New Orleans paintings from 2008
In at least one case, Banksy had permission. Cummings said that before the stencils popped up he had received a mysterious phone call from an acquaintance claiming to represent Banksy. Banksy’s agent asked for permission to produce a mural on an nondescript Elysian Fields building that Cummings owned. Cummings was incredulous, but he agreed.
Note: Everything I’ve written about the Banksy mural so far is supposition. Some believe he orchestrated the graffiti bombing the Crescent City personally; others believe he designed the stencils, but may not have been around for the actual painting. Nonetheless, the paintings that appeared in August 2008 are considered authentic Banksys.
The painting that appeared on Elysian Fields Avenue was immediately controversial because it depicted looters in military uniforms filling a shopping cart with stolen items. The image seemed to imply that the National Guard, which had been deployed to prevent looting during hurricanes Katrina and Gustav, couldn’t be trusted. Banksy’s intended meaning is unknown, but it was safe to say the message was meant to be subversive. More subversive than any of the other compositions by far.