Last week Banksy confirmed themselves as the artist behind a new graffiti work which appeared on the wall of Reading Gaol (also known as HM Prison Reading). It featured an inmate escaping down a rope of tied-up sheets attached to a typewriter. In a video posted to their Instagram, Banksy named the work ‘Create Escape’.
The unknown artist has promoted socio-political causes throughout his career – creating works in support of Greenpeace, NHS workers, and refugees, amongst many others. With this new piece, the artist draws attention to the local campaign ‘Save Reading Gaol’, which seeks to turn Reading Gaol into an arts hub, rather than the luxury flats that had been planned when the jail shut down in 2013.
By referencing the political and cultural resistance of Oscar Wilde’s creative work, this piece positions art as an expression of defiance, and also of comfort. Save Reading Gaol tweeted accordingly: ‘Art can offer a lifeline from our isolation, even if only for a while. It was true for Mr Wilde & it’s still true today! Art creates art, creates art…Inspiration begets inspiration.’ There could be no better expression of support for a new cultural hub, especially in a time where arts funding is not at its peak.
The artwork does not only offer an artistic commentary in support of the hub. It also represents great economic support, with Banksy’s works regularly valued at over £1 million. Officials have stated that the artwork should not affect the price of the already Grade II listed building, but the presence of such a high value (both culturally and monetary) piece adds a lot of validation for the arts hub campaign: Reading Council has already made calls for it to be protected. Support for the community bid for the building has also been voiced by the likes of Dame Judi Dench and Sir Kenneth Branagh.
It is hard to argue against the creation of a cultural hub that rests on some of Britain’s most famous and acclaimed artists, especially one that transforms a place of suffering into one of new creative foundations.