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Art world rogue, media darling, and perennial provocateur Banksy has broken away from his recent stay-at-home projects to debut an act of goodwill and perhaps his least controversial take ever: a series dedicated to the heroics of the UK National Health Service (NHS). As reported by the BBC, Southampton General Hospital (part of University Hospital Southampton) debuted a new Banksy painting, titled “Game Changer” by the artist, and retitled (with Banksy’s permission) “Painting for Saints,” according to CNN. The painting depicts a little boy in overalls, playing with action figures on the floor. He’s discarded some of his franchise superheroes, Batman and Spiderman, in favor of a COVID mask-wearing NHS nurse, flying Superman-pose in his hand.
The framed painting, donated by the artist and hung overnight in collaboration with UHS management in a foyer near the emergency department, is rendered entirely in black and white, except for the red NHS cross on the nurse’s uniform.
“Thanks for all you’re doing,” wrote the artist in a note left for hospital workers, as reported by the Guardian. “I hope this brightens the place up a bit, even if [it’s] only black and white.”
The artwork will be auctioned this fall to raise money for NHS charities, a spokeswoman for Banksy said.
“It will be really valued by everyone in the hospital as people get a moment in their busy lives to pause, reflect, and appreciate this piece of art,” said Paula Head, chief executive of University Hospital Southampton NHS Foundation Trust, quoted in the Guardian.
Though this latest antic falls closer to charity than prank, it also showcases Banksy’s unfailing knack for generating attention at the heart of the news cycle. And though there are numerous complexities to the politics and subtext of calling healthcare workers “heroes,” we can all hope that Banksy’s gesture is received in a positive spirit by those who continue to risk their lives and health in the fight against this global pandemic.