During the night of Easter Monday last year, a controversial art piece appeared on a street corner in Bergen, Norway. The artwork – titled “Making a Martyr” – depicts former Minister of Justice and Immigration, Sylvi Listhaug. The street artist AFK (kind of the Norwegian equivalent of Banksy) put up the painting shortly after Listhaug stepped down from her position. To make a long story short, she had made islamophobic and fearmongering posts on her public Facebook page, which prompted another politician to propose a vote of confidence against her. The symbolism of Listhaug on the cross with a crown of thorns alludes to her “playing the victim” in this situation.
Many of Listhaug’s supporters were offended by the piece, especially because it associates her politics with Nazi symbolism (e.g. the “Mein Kampf” tattoo on her lower abdomen). The police opened an investigation, treating the art piece as “normal graffiti”. Before long, however, an unknown person covered it in black paint. In an unexpected turn of events, a group of students then detached the canvas from the wall and restored the original painting using nail polish remover. The students eventually sold the painting for around 30.000 dollars, and it was later auctioned off for over 55.000 dollars.
“Making a Martyr” and the events surrounding it raises several questions about the nature and impact of street art. In this case, the art piece not only contributed to a political debate, it also left the street and entered an art gallery. Does street art belong to the street, or should we allow private parties to collect and sell it? Is it justified to not give the artist any of the revenue, just because he committed a crime? When we monetize street art and bring it into “conventional society”, is the piece no longer considered a product of crime?
Brudvik, A. & Gillesvik, K. (2018, April 2). Raser mot gatekunst av naken og korsfestet Listhaug. Aftenposten, retrieved from https://www.aftenposten.no/norge/i/vmbrKV/Raser-mot-gatekunst-av-naken-og-korsfestet-Listhaug
Moe, T.A. & Anthun, M. (2018, September 20). Maleriet av Listhaug solgt for 500.000 kroner. NRK Hordaland. Retrieved from https://www.nrk.no/hordaland/maleriet-av-listhaug-solgt-for-500.000-kroner-1.14216198
Mathiesen, T.E.H. (Photographer). (2018, April 3) “Making a Martyr” [digital image]. Retrieved from https://www.vg.no/rampelys/i/VRpg36/kunstanmeldelse-afk-making-a-martyr-misforstaatt-martyrdiskusjon