Gangsta Rat is a character of Banksy’s which has made several appearances; the first one being at a corner of the Moorsfield Eye Hospital in London in 2006. Once the hospital realized it was a Banksy work, it was covered up to pre-empt any damage or theft. It went under the hammer for the first time in 2010 as part of the famous Saatchi Gallery’s ‘The Art of Giving’ exhibition, with the generated revenue going towards research into eye diseases.
The original work at Moorsfield was stenciled graffiti in black that portrayed a rat dressed as a member of the hip-hop underground scene wearing street bling and exhibiting a “gangsta” attitude with his paws and demeanour. A boombox or ghettoblaster is placed next to the rat, while a microphone can be seen in the left paw.
Beginning with what Banksy himself has to say about Gangsta Rat, there is a mention of it in the book Wall and Piece:
"They exist without permission. They are hated, hunted and persecuted. They live in quiet desperation amongst the filth. And yet they are capable of bringing entire civilizations to their knees.
If you are dirty, insignificant and unloved, then rats are the ultimate role model."
Banksy brings together this personal symbolism and view of rats with the credo of the hip-hop underground subculture to create a character that seems to be an almost organic synthesis. On one level, Banksy is creating a unique visual representation to bring to us a means for understanding identity. It could even be called urban iconography.
On the other hand, once we have recognized, identified with and understood the character, the leit motif, it is what Gangsta Rat is doing that becomes significant and demands to be translated into meaning. Even with the bold yet minimal detail that the stenciled medium allows, Banksy succeeds in showing an amazing amount of expression. The rat almost seems like he has been caught in the moment and forces that experience on the viewer, as if we are the ones who have caused the rat to be startled in his calm dark manner. This is something significant that the work accomplishes; transference and involvement. Here Gangsta Rat ceases to be an icon or character, representation of identity, but a living individual self that interacts with the viewer.
The interactive quality of the work can be understood even better by contextualizing it in space. Moorsfield Eye Hospital is on City Road in London, which is a posh and predominantly upper middle class area. While the hip-hop subculture and Banksy’s (plus generally) perception of rats is almost antithetical. It is here that the piece actually achieves something that public art always aspires to- force dialogue and create a conscious crash of mental spaces.
Specialists in Banksy prints and urban art, Contemporary Art Trader can help you find your very own, authentic Gangsta Rat, signed or unsigned. For any queries you may have, contact us today.