“This Must Be the Place”. Graffiti artist Banksy in Stockholm?

Isis Marina Graham

“Do you want to go see Banksy on Saturday?” One of my housemates asks me. “I mean, not “Bansky”, Banksy, but a Banksy exhibit? Supposedly. It’s kind of mysterious.” He tells me everything he knows – Media outlets have received an anonymous letter that Banksy is having a show on Hudiksvallsgatan (Stockholm’s gallery center) between 1-4 Saturday March 23 and “you’re not going to like it.” Whatever that means. Rumor has it that Banksy’s first ever visit to Stockholm is because a gallerist from Still Kicking Gallery in Malmötook, or stole, or bought a Banksy piece from the wall in Palestine and sold it in Sweden at the gallery’s unauthorized Banksy exhibition  – a questionable act.Yet Banksy’s publicist made a statementdenying that he has anything to do with whatever is happening in Stockholm on Saturday.

I begin to look into this mysterious happeningand the media is eating it up with a spoon. It is being discussed on television, radio, and in the. Where’s all this attention when it comes to normal arts and culture happenings around town? To be fair, graffiti and street art have always been a hot-button issue around Stockholm- there is a zero tolerance policy and any new pieces are usually removed within a few days, if not hours. The fact that a world-famous street artist, or someone pretending to be him, is going to grace us with his “presence” is getting everyone’s panties in a twist.

People gathering at Hudikvallsgatan

A practice in tresspassing

I show up at Hudiksvallsgatan around 12:45, and it’s already crowded.” The street is just one block long with tall buildings on either side. One of my friends points out that it’s a great place for an ambush: “He could kill off all of Stockholm’s hipsters in one fell swoop.” We anxiously notice every detail, waiting for the moment that Bansky, or “not Banksy,” will make his mark. At exactly 1:00, a man in a black tracksuit begins blowing a whistle and slowly jogs towards a more industrial area. The crowd follows.

Hanging person, Unknown Artist

Wall Text (Reads: "Anonymous Celebrity: You've come here to see something, but you're not sure what. You're here to be a part of something you don't fully understand. The most intriguing elements of Banksy's work are when he plays with authenticity and subverts expectations. The most baffling aspect of the Banksy phenomenon is how someone can claim anonymity with a world-renound name. It's hard not to be cynical in the center of a media cyclone, but sometimes curiosity needs to be exercised to remain strong. If you're still wondering if this is the work of Banksy, maybe the next question should be, is that the most important question you can ask yourself? And is it ok if you never get an answer? Maybe Banksy is an unwilling collaborator or maybe he knows more about what's going on here than his publicist does. The only thing that's certain is that you're here and that this is the place. - Celebrate the Anonymous")

We are lead to an abandoned building and make our way in. If nothing else I am pleased that we are being invited to engage in a practice of trespassing- Swedes aren’t exactly known for breaking the rules. There is a strong smell of fresh paint as we enter into the exhibition space- and that is exactly what this is- an exhibition. The art being displayed might not be your usual Swedish gallery or museum fair, unless you consider the street art show at Kulturhuset last year, but it is staged as any other exhibit might be. Sculptural installations, writing on the walls, some classic Bansky stencils are hiding in a closed-off room. Outside there are some pieces by some well-known graffiti writers around Sweden, including Akay, Una, Serio and Casix - speculations are made that Akay, Klisterpeter, and Adam are behind the show.  

Absolut Switzerland, Unknown Artist

To Avoid Criticism Say Nothing Do Nothing Be Nothing, Unknown Artist

You Can't Lie in Front of the Bulldozer Forever, Unknown Artist

Caged Bears in Prison Clothing, Uknown Artist. Note: Caged Bear photographed in London on the same day as the exhibition

There’s a text on the wall about anonymity and fame, which to sum it up, basically asks: Does it matters if this is a true Bansky show or not, since he is anonymous anyway? The wall text makes everything feel a bit more like an art student exhibition exploring themes of anonymity, fame, and hype, than an underground street and graffiti art happening - but who knows, it’s not unlike Banksy to poke fun at the contemporary art world- see “Exit Through the Gift Shop” if you haven’t yet.

Punched out Smiley, Unknown Artist

Fragile Boxes with Peepholes Looking in on Live Maggots and Mice, Unknown Artist

Crushed by Gucci, Unknown Artist

Then the looting began. People started stealing cages containing teddy bears in prison clothing and black head covers that had been hanging in a dark room. Could the looting be an element of the exhibition related to the rumored actions of the gallerist in Malmö? I followed two of the looters, who both disappeared into a close-by neighborhood. Later, when I see them both return to the exhibition, my suspicions that it is all part of the show are confirmed, but the floodgates have been opened. People have broken into the room with stencils and spraycans and begin covering the walls, while others are tucking anything they can hold into their jackets and sneaking away with their own piece of “Banksy” history.

So was it Banksy, or was it not Banksy? We’ll never know, but as the text on the wall reminds us: “Celebrate the anonymous.” 

Room with Banksy stencils and spray cans

 Graffiti by Akay

 Graffiti by Serio

Graffiti by Una

Looter in the Blue Jacket

Looter in the Leather Jacket

Making his own contribution to the exhibition

 A freshly tagged wall

More fresh tags

Teenage boys look over the exhibition after climbing on a structure, one celebrating in a gorilla costume