Banksy: Does he save a queer cultural heritage?

The world-famous artist wants to help transform the prison where Oscar Wilde was once imprisoned for his homosexuality into an art center. For this purpose, he donated a template with which he painted a work of art on the facade of the building in March. The proceeds could be estimated to bring in more than 13.3 million euros.

The famous British artist, whose true identity is still largely unknown today, donated a template with which he painted a mural on the facade of the famous former prison in March. It shows a prisoner fleeing on a rope consisting of sheets attached to a typewriter. Banksy is said to have given the template to the citizens of Reading – but on condition that all proceeds are used to support the purchase offer of the Reading City Council (about 64 kilometers from London), which wants to buy the listed building.

Banksy told the Sunday Times after the creation of his work of art: “I promised myself to paint the wall even before I knew what it was. But now I’m on fire for it. Oscar Wilde is the patron saint when it comes to combining two opposing ideas to create magic. Turning the place that destroyed it into a refuge for art feels so perfect that we have to do it.”

The prison that destroyed Oscar Wilde

The support of the world-famous artist was announced by activists of the “Save Reading Gaol” campaign. They expressed their hope that the donation would be sufficient to convince the Ministry of Justice to accept the Reading City Council’s application for the transformation of the prison. A spokesman for Banksy said that the Minister of Culture had been informed about the promise of funds, but that no answer has yet been received.

The prison, popularly known as Reading Gaol, has been empty since 2013 and has been available for sale since 2019. At that time, Karen Rowland, Reading’s city councilor for leisure, described the building as an “LGBT cultural heritage” and referred to the connection to Wild Detention. In this prison he was imprisoned for homosexual relationships, here he experienced gross injustice, here he was broken. In the end, the building could simply be converted into apartments – if no better financial offer is received.

On the 25th On May 5, 1895, Oscar Wilde was sentenced to two years in prison with severe forced labor for dealing with male prostitutes. The two years ruined his health. After a few months in a London prison, the writer was transferred to the prison in Reading in November 1895. Solitary confinement and isolation applied there, many inmates got mental health problems. Wild woman Constance, who visited him three months later, then wrote to her brother in horror that her husband was a complete wreck compared to the past. After his release from prison, the author of “The Portrait of Dorian Gray”, now severely damaged in health, fled Great Britain. Apart from the play “The Ballad from the Prison to Reading”, Wilde wrote nothing more until his death three years later, lonely and impoverished. He never returned to his homeland.


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