Was Banksy Caught on Camera at a Mall in Israel?

Footage made with a phone camera claims to show the elusive artist at work.

A woman in Israel claims to have caught the elusive artist Banksy on camera. Image via Daily Mail on YouTube

Could this be the last word on one of today’s biggest art mysteries? Has the identity of the world’s most famous street artist Banksy been revealed once and for all?

Several British tabloids, including the Daily Mail, ran stories this weekend showing footage captured with a mobile phone camera by an anonymous woman, who claims to have caught the elusive Bristol-born artist in action, working on a show that’s slated to open to the public tomorrow inside a mall in Herzlyia, Israel.

The 20-second clip shows a man appearing to be in his forties working inside an art space, and holding a stencil in his hand. He’s wearing a white Panama hat, but his spray-paint mask is lowered to his neck, such that his face is fully exposed. The man is seen looking straight at the camera. As soon as he realizes that he is being filmed, he raises his hand to obliterate his face.

It is not unusual for Banksy to visit the region. His works have popped-up in Gaza in the past, and he has recently opened the Walled Off hotel in Bethlehem, in the West Bank, a grandiose project which he had managed to keep under wraps until its much-publicized opening.

This week, a show titled “The Art of Banksy” is opening on the other side of the Israeli Separation Wall, inside the Arena shopping mall in the well-to-do city of Herzlyia. The exhibition is organized by Banksy’s former manager, Steve Lazarides, and is said to have nothing to do with the artist, according to the Israeli daily Haaretz. (Last fall, Lazarides organized another unsanctioned Banksy show, in Australia.)

The woman who had sent the footage to the tabloids explained that the mall doesn’t open until 10 a.m., and that anyone who enters earlier must sign their names with the mall security.

“What was really weird was that when I came in and I had to sign my name, I noticed an English name and said to the security guard ‘who is that?'”, she told the Daily Mail. The guard reportedly replied that the signer had said he was “an artist from England.”

Banksy is known for his politically-charged, pithy works that function as commentary on current affairs and social injustice. He is also one of the world’s highest paid living artists. According to the artnet Price Database, the highest amount paid at auction for a Banksy is $1,870,000, achieved in 2007 at Sotheby’s New York.

His secretive identity has been an endless source for speculation, with the most recent theory claiming that the artist is in fact Massive Attack founder Robert “3D” Del Naja, also from Bristol, after it was shown that new works by Banksy kept appearing in the locations where the band had gigs. (Del Naja denied.)

It’s also not the first time that the street artist is believed to have been caught on camera. A brief video posted by YouTube user Mia S and shot on Hosier Lane, an approved location for street art in Melbourne, Australia, purports to show the artist.

Prior to that, a team of scientists at London’s Queen Mary University claim to have discovered the identity of Banksy by using geographic profiling, a technique used to catch serial criminals. The academic research identified the anonymous graffiti artist as Robin Gunningham.

The artist, who has managed to maintain his identity secret despite rabid curiosity, has not released a reply at the time of publishing. However, some fans and readers have reacted with dismay to the release of the video.

“Clearly this footage is completely against his wishes. Take it down, absolutely no respect,” one reader from London comments on the Daily Mail’s post.

UPDATE: The man caught on camera has been identified as James Ame, aka Ame72, known for his Lego Man graffiti that can be seen in the clip sprayed on the lower right corner of the space.

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