Thursday, May 26

Banksy: artist ready to raise £ 10million to turn famous prison into an art center

The British street artist wants to acquire the old Reading prison in which Oscar Wilde was imprisoned for two years, in order to make it a cultural center. For this, he decided to put on sale the original stencil of a work of street art that he made in homage to the Irish writer.

According to the British newspaper The Guardian, Banksy offered to match the purchase price of Reading Prison, set at £ 10million, or over € 11million, by putting up for sale the stencil of ‘Create Escape’, a mural painted by his treatment in March 2021 on one of the facades of the building.

According to The Times, another daily from across the Channel, the anonymous artist would have sold only one stencil before, which makes it the rarest part of his artistic production. This Banksy stencil is valued at between £ 10-15million and is expected to be sold to a collector without auction.

This street art work depicts a prisoner resembling the poet and playwright Oscar Wilde escaping using a rope made from sheets attached to a typewriter. Sentenced to two years of hard labor for “contempt of morality” following the revelation of his affair with Alfred Douglas, the Irish writer had been detained in a cell in Reading between 1895 and 1897. During his stay in prison, Oscar Wilde wrote “De Profundis” and published in 1898 his famous poem entitled “The Ballad of Reading Jail”, inspired by a true story, which chronicles the last days of a soldier executed for having slaughtered his wife out of jealousy.

A historic and symbolic building

Listed as a historic monument in 1978, Reading Prison, better known as Reading Gaol, was built in 1844 on the site of the medieval Reading Abbey founded by King Henry I, where it is said to have been buried after his death. The prison was closed in 2013 and then put on sale for the first time in 2019 by the UK Department of Justice. But following the failure of two offers from real estate developers in 2020, a new listing was ordered in June 2021. Reading City Council then renewed its offer to turn Reading Prison into a center for arts. It is this offer that Banksy wants to support by raising funds. It would thus reach the sum of 12.6 million pounds sterling.

Asked by The Guardian, the street-artist declared that Oscar Wilde “had no equal for making two discordant ideas collide and draw magic from them”. “To make the place that destroyed it a refuge for art, that seems to make sense, we cannot not do it”, he added.

Banksy’s initiative has been hailed by local politicians like Labor MP Matt Rodda who in a tweet called it “the best Christmas present Reading could wish for”.

In addition, British artists such as actors Kenneth Branagh, Kate Winslet or Judi Dench have also lent their support to the proposed purchase of the prison by the City Council of Reading.

But the UK Justice Department said the deadline for submitting bids has expired and those received on time are being considered.

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