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A Valentine's Day message from Banksy comments on violence against women

People gathered to see a Banksy artwork on the side of a house in Margate, England, on Valentine's Day. The work depicts a 1950s housewife with a swollen eye, missing a tooth — and apparently shutting a man in a freezer. The freezer was later removed by council workers.
William Edwards
/
AFP via Getty Images
People gathered to see a Banksy artwork on the side of a house in Margate, England, on Valentine's Day. The work depicts a 1950s housewife with a swollen eye, missing a tooth — and apparently shutting a man in a freezer. The freezer was later removed by council workers.

Updated February 15, 2023 at 12:45 PM ET

At first glance, she could be a prototypical 1950s housewife, wearing an apron over a smart gingham dress, complete with yellow cleaning gloves. But this is a Banksy artwork on the side of a building we're talking about, and the woman is pushing a freezer door closed — and a man's legs are jutting out the other end.

The woman is also hurt. She appears to be missing a tooth, and an eye is swollen shut. And that's where the title comes in: "Valentine's Day mascara," according to a post to Banksy's Instagram account on Tuesday.

The most-liked reply to Banksy's post reads: "Fighting violence used against women. Even on Valentines Day. Always!"

The artwork appeared in Margate, a city in southeastern England, becoming the latest locale for a graffiti installation by one of the world's most famous living artists. It reportedly appeared on Monday; one day later, the local government removed the freezer that was a key part of the tableau, citing safety concerns.

But now the appliance "has been returned to its original position," the Thanet District Council said on Wednesday, stating that the appliance "has now been made safe." It did not provide details, saying only that work was done on the freezer "for health and safety reasons."

"Banksy raises the important issue of domestic abuse in this artwork," the council said. "We are in touch with the owner of the property to understand their intentions around the preservation of the piece and to secure the best possible outcome for the local community and victims of domestic abuse."

The work incorporates an actual freezer and a toppled chair, following Banksy's tradition of mixing everyday items with paint and other media. As word of the artwork spread, people flocked to snap photos of themselves posing alongside the woman — resilient, triumphant and injured.

Then the freezer was taken away, leaving a void.

Workers remove a chest freezer that was part of an artwork by street artist Banksy, along the side of a house in Margate, southeast England.
William Edwards / AFP via Getty Images
/
AFP via Getty Images
Workers remove a chest freezer that was part of an artwork by street artist Banksy, along the side of a house in Margate, southeast England.

The Thanet District Council said on Tuesday that while the graffiti art is a genuine Banksy, and it was on the wall of a privately owned property, the chest freezer was "removed by council operatives on the grounds of safety as it was on public land."

The council said it had placed the freezer in storage, adding that it would be returned "once it has been made safe to the public."

Some local residents mocked the council for invoking the need to keep public spaces tidy as a rationale for taking the art work apart.

"The council saying it was removed for safety reason is a bit short sided, considering that there is a side road next to the Banksy with a pile of rubbish and wood full of nails," resident Davide Restifo told The Isle of Thanet News, submitting a photo of unsightly debris to prove his point.

If you or someone you know is experiencing domestic abuse, use a safe computer and contact help. You can also visit a local shelter, or call 911 or the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Bill Chappell is a writer and editor on the News Desk in the heart of NPR's newsroom in Washington, D.C.