LONDON » A mural by the artist Banksy satirizing racism has been removed by the governing council of a British town where the anti-immigration U.K. Independence Party hopes to win its first parliamentary seat — after a complaint that the painting itself was "offensive and racist."
The mural, in Clacton-on-Sea, showed a group of dark gray rock pigeons holding signs reading "Migrants not welcome," "Go back to Africa" and "Keep off our worms," all directed at a small, more exotic green bird, possibly a swallow, that appears to be cowering at some distance on the same wire.
Why the mural was interpreted as racist rather than satirical is unclear. The Tendring District Council said Thursday that it had not known that the mural was by Banksy, an anonymous artist whose street art has sold for hundreds of thousands of dollars.
He has painted obviously political murals at locations like the separation barrier in the Israeli-occupied West Bank and the headquarters of Government Communications Headquarters, the British spy agency that monitors communications.
The council said it had received a complaint Tuesday that the work contained "offensive and racist remarks." After officials examined the mural, they decided to remove it chemically, said Nigel Brown, a spokesman for the council, leaving behind a discolored white wall.
Clacton-on-Sea, the largest town on the Tendring Peninsula in southeast England, is the center of an election district whose seat is held by Douglas Carswell, who defected this summer from the Conservatives to the Independence Party, which campaigns on restricting immigration and ending Britain’s membership in the European Union. Carswell is expected to retain the seat in a by-election next Thursday, becoming the party’s first member of Parliament.
The mural was presumably a commentary on the party’s anti-immigration policy, and an image of it appeared on Banksy’s website, but only after it had been destroyed.
Brown said that after the complaint, "the site was inspected by staff who agreed that it could be seen as offensive and it was removed this morning in line with our policy to remove this type of material within 48 hours."
He said the council would welcome "an appropriate Banksy original on any of our seafronts," but, as he later told Reuters, "not the same thing, because even if we knew it was Banksy, if that could be seen by some people as being inappropriate, offensive or racist, we would still want to remove that."
Jonathan Jones, a critic for The Guardian newspaper, wrote, "This is the best Banksy I have never seen: a clever and succinct satire on some currents of feeling in contemporary Britain, terrified of ‘migrants,’ menaced by otherness."
Given the political context, Jones asserted, the removal was less a mistake than an act of censorship.
"Far from being by any stretch of the imagination ‘racist,’ it is — was — a witty put-down of the drab, dour vision of Britain touted by those who would push down diversity," he concluded.
A spokesman for Banksy said the artist had no comment.