It appears that Banksy has struck again, this time painting the brick wall of the former Reading Prison in Berkshire, England, where Oscar Wilde was jailed for two years over his “indecent” affair with Lord Alfred Douglas.
In the new mural, a prisoner in striped garb is seen mid-escape, dangling from a rope made of knotted sheets as he repels down the wall. Although the anonymous street artist has yet to claim the work as his own (which he does only on Instagram or his official website), curator Vince John told the “It appears to be a new Banksy at Reading jail, or should I say ‘gaol,’” as the prison was formerly known. “I believe the piece is in reference to Oscar Wilde.”
The Irish poet wrote about his stay there, during which time a 30-year-old man named Charles Thomas Wooldridge was hanged for murder. The poem was published under the name C.3.3., a reference to cell block C, landing 3, cell 3, where Wilde stayed from 1895 to 1897.
John, who runs Bristol’s 1loveart gallery, described the work as “both humorous and politically poignant.”
The new mural could help spur a campaign to transform the site, which has sat empty since its closure in 2014, into an arts complex, a move that has support from Dame Judi Dench and Sir Kenneth Branagh.
The prison was put up for sale in 2019 and, after a deal fell through, the council was given more time to find investment for the project.
Artistic director of Reading’s Rabble Theater, Toby Davies, was thrilled at the prospect that the street artist had used the prison as his canvas. “In the right hands, this gaol will evolve Reading into an internationally recognized historical and cultural destination,” he told the BBC. “Dare I say it, it looks like Banksy agrees.”
Banksy has been busy over the past year, creating multiple murals that reflect on the pandemic, including his most recent work, featuring an elderly woman mid-sneeze.