In 2008, an article in the UK’s Daily Mail claimed to have discovered the identity of Banksy, the elusive British street artist. This past month, scientists at Queen Mary University announced that they conducted a process of geographic profiling research that supports this theory. Although no conclusions have been drawn, this newly minted evidence brings the international community another step closer to discovering the identity of this contemporary artist.
A group of researchers at Queen Mary University believe that their findings support the theory that Banksy is actually a man named Robin Gunningham, the same man that the Daily Mail suspected Banksy to be back in 2008. Led by criminologist Dr. Kim Rossmo, this team of scientists used a technique called geographic profiling to further investigate Banksy’s identity. This team published an article with their findings in the Journal of Spatial Science on March third.
Geographic profiling, a method that analyzes the locations connected to crimes in order to determine the where the perpetrator lives, is commonly used to investigate serial rapists and serial murderers, but it has also been used to investigate the spread of disease. Scientists then analyze the correlation between those locations based on the premise that the criminal will commit his offense close to home, though not too close. When committing crimes, offenders don’t want to be recognized by their neighbors but they also don’t tend to venture too far from the area. In Banksy’s case, scientists compared the locations of his artwork around Bristol and London with the locations where they have believed the suspect, Robin Gunningham, to have frequented.
Banksy describes himself as a “quality vandal.” His street art began appearing around Bristol in 1993 as a part of the music and graffiti culture that developed during the early 1990s. Banksy primarily uses stenciling, as well as free hand techniques in his artwork, the messages of which tend to be anti-establishment and anti- authoritarian. By 2001, Banksy had become increasingly well known and his graffiti-style artwork had begun to pop up all over the UK and major U.S. cities such as San Francisco, Paris and Sydney. Although Banksy has risen in popularity, he has been able to maintain his anonymous identity. In 2010 he was even able direct and star in an award winning documentary, “Exit through the Gift Shop”, while maintaining his anonymity. In this film, his face and voice were distorted to keep his identity secret. Able to control his image through email and other anonymous platforms such as his website, Banksy claims that his main reason for keeping his real name and appearance a secret is to evade the police. Despite his international renown, his art still takes a largely illegal form.
Despite these new findings through geographic profiling, Banksy’s identity has not been confirmed. This study only serves to give more credit to the theory that Banksy is Robin Gunningham, a theory that was developed eight years ago. The individual behind the artist Banksy remains a mystery, but this is for the best. Part of the intrigue surrounding Banksy’s art is his anonymity, which provides outlets for his art that might not be available if his identity were known. By keeping his true self a secret, Banksy can be more provocative in his statements and messages. Banksy’s anonymity is part of his brand. Unmasking Banksy would only serve to suppress one of today’s most outspoken artists. Both the science community and the art community should stop fixating on discovering who Banksy really is and just appreciate him for his art and his political commentary.
Although the research done at Queen Mary University was largely harmless (we didn’t really learn anything new), it does bring up the question of privacy. Is it right to track people based on their previous movements? Although we live in an increasingly connected society, people still have the right to some sort level of privacy. If an innocent person doesn’t want their address made public, they shouldn’t be tracked down through geographic profiling. Geographic profiling could be an incredibly helpful tool that greatly benefits society, but it must be used appropriately. For now we should continue trying to track down the sources of malaria, not artists.