New York’s wandering street sophist today deposited his latest work, a replica of Egypt’s Great Sphinx of Giza, in what appears to be a vacant lot in Queens. Per Banksy’s website, the piece is a “1/36 scale” version of the ancient original, which means it should be around 6.7 feet long and 1.75 feet high. If the perspective in the image provided is to be trusted, however, it looks like Banksy’s rendition excludes much of the original’s iconic elongated body. The piece appears to focus instead on the Sphinx’s bust, remade with a face more skeletal and macabre than pockmarked by millennia of erosion. Also worth noting is Banksy’s inclusion of a false beard, a common Pharaonic accessory, which marks a notable departure from the Giza Sphinx as it stands today. Though a prominent Egyptologist did conclusively posit that the Great Sphinx was bearded in a 1992 paper — basing his reconstruction on recovered limestone fragments now in the British Museum — the British government has steadfastly refused to return it.
The text accompanying the announcement on the artist’s site reads:
Everything but the kitchen Sphinx. A 1/36 scale replica of the great Sphinx of Giza made from smashed cinderblocks.You’re advised not to drink the replica Arab spring water.
Though the puns leave something to be desired, the work can perhaps be understood as participating in Banksy’s ongoing dialogue with his vandals that we previously noted with the 9/11 piece: the great monuments of Ancient Egypt are also among the most widely looted and defaced artifacts of human civilization. In this sense the Sphinx is the inverse of his World Trade Center memorial, which to this day is the only street-level entry in this Better Out Than In series to remain free from direct intervention. And, of course, the Great Sphinx, long dogged by rumors of its use as Napoleonic target practice, is a fine example of the entwined fates of power, common vandals, and — our best efforts notwithstanding — the inevitable grind of decay.
Update, 12:40pm EDT: StreetArtNews first reported the location — 34-10 127th Street in Willets Point, Queens — a little under an hour ago. Hyperallergic’s Jeremy Polacek is on the scene and we will soon be updating this post accordingly.
Update, 1:29pm EDT: Elias Pna, an employee at a local body shop, tells Hyperallergic that he saw two men who “looked like bums” install the work at 2am this morning, noting that due to the ease with which they moved the work, the sphinx appeared to be made of foam or some other light material.
Update, 2:16pm EDT: See below for Jeremy Polacek’s photographs.