A stenciled work by the street artist Banksy was stolen from the Bataclan nightclub in Paris over the weekend, the club announced on its Twitter and Instagram Saturday. The mural, depicting a young woman in a head scarf, her face made of abstract flowers, was placed there in memory of the November 2015 terror attack on Paris, during which 90 attendees of an Eagles of Death Metal concert at the club were killed by militants affiliated with the Islamic State.
“The very essence of street art is to give life to a work of art in a specific environment, and we are persuaded that this work has no meaning except in this place. This is the reason why we wished to leave it, free, on the street, accessible to all,” the Bataclan management wrote in a statement in French on Instagram. The @bataclanofficiel Instagram account also commented with several broken-heart emojis on Banksy’s original photos of the work. It was located on an emergency exit door from the club; security footage shows the thieves cutting the door out and driving off with it. The whole theft, as Bataclan director Florence Jeux told NBC, took less than 10 minutes.
Banksy first posted the work to his Instagram last summer, during a short period around World Refugee Day when he also hit the city with graffiti near the Pompidou Center, the Porte de la Chapelle, and the Sorbonne. (Though there was apparently some initial doubt as to whether the pieces were genuine, the artist seems to have owned up to them on his social media.) Because his works, many of which grapple with politics and social justice issues, are located in public spaces, accessible to all, they’re especially susceptible to forgery and theft. His reclusivity, the mystery surrounding his persona (he may or may not be Massive Attack member Robert Del Naja), add to the cachet—and literal value—of the works. Unauthorized art shows featuring his work are a regularity—in 2014, Vice recently reported, there was a show entitled “Stealing Banksy”; the artist denounced it, calling it “disgusting”—and a documentary about the theft of an entire Banksy-tagged wall in Palestine premiered last year at the Tribeca Film Festival. Still other pieces have simply been painted over, sometimes by other street artists; sometimes, they destroy themselves.
So there’s an inherent peril to art left on the street for all to see. But there’s something especially disquieting about the theft of a piece left in tribute to the victims of a terror attack, something especially sad about a theft that so entirely disregards the interaction between the art and its location, as the Bataclan team alluded. Street art is, by its nature, ephemeral, but that doesn’t make it fair game.