Photo: Jeremy Reddington/Shutterstock

Did Terrorist Hunters Just Identify Banksy?

by Matt Hershberger Mar 7, 2016

THE BIGGEST MYSTERY IN THE ART WORLD is the identity of Banksy, the street artist known for his (or her) subversive, tongue-in-cheek graffiti art that has popped up all over the world for the past couple of decades. But it might not be a mystery anymore: researchers, using a method called “geographic profiling,” which is being developed to hunt terrorists, believe they may have identified Banksy.

In 2008, the tabloid paper The Daily Mail claimed to have identified Banksy as a Bristol man named Robin Gunningham, even publishing a picture of him. Banksy, at the time, responded on his (or her) website by saying, “I am unable to comment on who may or may not be Banksy, but anyone described as being ‘good at drawing’ doesn’t sound like Banksy to me.”

Other theories have claimed that Banksy is a woman, or that he is a team of artists, or that he’s other people entirely, but the researchers decided to test the Gunningham theory. They were actually not able to independently able to confirm Gunningham’s existence, as they never actually met him, but they did find records of him on press clippings and voter rolls, and they were able to identify places that he was known to have spent time — four spots in Bristol, where he grew up and where Banksy’s work first started appearing (places like his home, his school, the pitch he played soccer on), as well as three homes he’s believed to have lived in in the city of London, where he moved around the turn of the century.

While the confirmation wasn’t 100% positive, Dr. Kim Rossmo, one of the authors of the report, told the New York Times, “I would call him an excellent suspect. He’s got connections to two entirely different cities that are involved here.”

The Daily Mail took that and ran with it, saying that science has confirmed their 2008 expose on Banksy’s identity. But while the report means that it’s likely that Gunningham is Banksy, it doesn’t totally confirm it.

The reason that the report used Banksy as practice was because it’s being developed to help investigators hunt down terrorism suspects. The idea is that prior to committing terrorist attacks, suspects have a tendency to post leaflets, draw graffiti, and commit lower-level political acts. By identifying where these smaller events happen, it may be able to help investigators narrow their lists of suspects. Since Banksy is the king (or queen) of political graffiti, he was the obvious person to test the theory out on. The same technology has been used to try and track disease outbreaks.

So it just got a lot more likely that we know Banksy’s identity. But knowing Banksy, he’ll just turn the speculation into more hype.

h/t: The New York Times

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