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Not All Superheroes Wear Capes

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Cast your memory back to the spring of last year. You’ve just sat down for supper on a Thursday evening when the conversation goes quiet and suddenly everyone runs to action stations. The eruption of cheers, the clanging of kitchen apparatus, and the choir of shouts harmonise into an orchestra of sound all showing their gratitude to key workers and particularly the nation’s health service, which was bearing the brunt of the crisis – on top of the pressures of the government’s ineptitude and years of austerity. 

However – whilst some cheered and others showed their appreciation by displaying rainbows in the windows of their homes, street artist Banksy had his unique way of showing his appreciation for the NHS. Always keen to capture the spirit of the moment, the notorious street artists produced a small monochrome drawing titled Game Changer which depicts a young boy in dungarees playing with a doll dressed in an old-fashioned nurse’s uniform. The young boy holds the figure over his head so that the nurse appears to be frozen in flight with one arm stretched out reminiscent of comic book superheroes such as Superman and Batman. Indeed, these more generic superhero’s lie forgotten in a wastepaper basket on the floor next to him – firmly confirming that a new guardian angel was protecting the streets. 

Indeed – the nurse’s uniform is complete with a face mask, cape, and a large red cross on her chest. Banksy’s choice to include the red cross is a clever reference to the traditional uniform worn by nurses in the 1900’s which would have included a navy cape with a red lining. Moreover, the inclusion of these traditional pieces of uniform accompanied with the more modern PPE face mask implies how nurses have always acted as heroes throughout history not only in this pandemic. 

The allusive graffiti artist – who first came to providence in the late 90’s – placed the work in the foyer of the Southampton General Hospital in May 2020 during the peak of the first wave of the pandemic. This image of hope was accompanied by a note which read ‘Thanks for all you’re doing. I hope this brightens the place up a bit, even if it’s only black and white.’ Whilst small in size – the work draws on the enter nations’ change in perception of key workers such as nurses during the pandemic. Indeed, the virus brought fear and anxiety to so many families and communities around the UK and the public turned to the NHS which finally gave key workers the recognition and respect that they deserved. It would seem without question that Banksy’s work is a visual representation of the UK’s communal belief that nurses, doctors, and any key worker are the real heroes of society without which our nation would have collapsed. 

Fast forward 12 months with another wave, with Christmas cancelled and NHS workers continuing to hold the nation together, Game Changer achieved 16 million pounds when sold at Christie’s in London on 23rd March 2021. Indeed, becoming the most expensive Banksy artwork at auction exactly one year to the day that the UK went into its first lockdown, the work has become a symbol of gratitude to all nurses around the UK. Perhaps what is most unique about this work is the fact that all proceeds of Game Changer have gone to the Southampton Hospital rather than going into private hands, a final gift from the artist. 

While this may be the most profitable charity sale – this is by no means Banksy’s first charity auction. The artists continual generosity towards real heroes of society has not been forgotten and Paul Head CEO of Southampton Hospital explained that Banksy’s choice to recognise his hospital was “a huge honour and the boost that all workers needed in these unprecedented times.”

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