Venice’s Plan to Restore a Water-Damaged Banksy Mural Rankles Local Artists

The mural is located on the Grand Canal and exposed to waves from passing motorboats.

A Banksy mural, depicting a migrant child wearing a lifejacket holding a pink flare, is painted on the outer wall of a house overlooking the canal Rio de Ca Foscari, in Venice. Photo by Marco Sabadin / AFP.

Artists are raising concerns about Italy’s plans to restore a mural by the street artist Banksy in Venice, which has faded due to exposure to the elements.

In early October, the Italian Culture Ministry first announced the plans to restore the mural known as The Migrant Child, painted on the wall outside an abandoned Venetian palace in the city’s Dorsoduro Sestiere district one night in 2019. It is one of two Banksy works in Italy.

“The mural by the British artist, one of the leading exponents of street art, whose true identity remains unknown, is deteriorating due to humidity, high water, and salt spray,” the ministry statement reads.

Specifically, the Venice Banksy is located on the Grand Canal on a lower part of the palace’s wall typically left unpainted and exposed to waves from passing motorboats.

The owner of the building had requested the help of the country’s Superintendence of Cultural Heritage in preserving the work. But the national body was prevented from doing so because the work is less than 70 years old and the author is living.

Ultimately, the Italian Culture Ministry stepped in. Undersecretary Vittorio Sgarbi said his office does not care about receiving Banksy’s consent or the other concerns that prevented the Superintendence of Cultural Heritage from restoring the work, noting that the artist made the mural illegally.

“The mayor of Venice and the president of the Veneto Region pointed out to me the fragility of the mural,” Sgarbi said in a statement. “I take responsibility for the intervention having the delegation on contemporary art, and it is my job to protect it.”

At the time, Sgarbi said officials had identified a major bank that would bear the costs of the restoration.

However, artists who spoke to Euronews question Sgarbi’s plans to proceed with the restoration.

“Banksy was no fool. He was fully aware that his waterside creation wasn’t meant to endure. Restoring it goes against the grain,” a street artist named Evyrein told Euronews.

Evyrein said he has had one of his own works restored “with the best intentions” but that the end result was “less than desirable.” The artist, who makes work from stencils similar to Banksy, said he would decline to ever restore another artist’s work without their explicit consent.

Rosanna Carrieri, an activist with the cultural heritage association Mi Riconosci, said that officials should engage with Banksy and the local community before restoring the work, which she blasted as an attempt capitalize on his fame.

Local tour guide Monica Gambarotto took a more neutral stance on the issue, noting that visitors often request to see the mural and that nearly all Venetian palaces were once adorned with frescoes. But those frescoes have naturally faded away in what she called “part of the city’s historical evolution.”

“On the flip side, any act of transient vandalism, like what street art often represents, becomes a historical testament,” she said. “In this regard, Banksy’s work remains an important document even today.”


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