Did Science Just Prove Banksy's Real Identity?

Photo: THOMAS COEX/AFP/Getty Images.
The true identity of Banksy has kept fans guessing, but a research team out of London thinks that it has finally proven the mysterious artist’s real name, according to The Independent.

Scientists at Queen Mary University of London used a method called geographic profiling to try to pinpoint the graffiti artist. The technique, taught to them by criminologist Dr. Kim Rossmo of Texas State University, is used in forensics and criminology to help catch criminal suspects. The method is like a sophisticated version of the mapping strategy popular in cartoons and detective shows, in which a detective maps out all of a suspect's crimes, invariably forming a circle, and assumes that the criminal is to be found at the center of it.

In this case, the researchers mapped 140 works in London and Bristol suspected to be by the artist. From there, they found clusters of “hot spots,” which they further refined to several specific locations — a pub, some playing fields, and several private addresses — to pinpoint an individual.

Banksy is the pseudonym of an anonymous graffiti artist known for his provocative works of political and social commentary. Among his most famous images are those of a protester throwing a bouquet of flowers and the tragic orphan Cosette, from the novel Les Misérables, being tear-gassed. In the summer of 2015, Banksy created an art installation called “Dismaland,” a dark parody of Disneyland. His identity has been hotly disputed, with suggestions that the name actually covers the works of a collective of artists, rather than one individual.

But the research indicated only one person: Robin Gunningham, a U.K. artist who has been rumored to be Banksy since 2008. “It rapidly became apparent that there is only one serious suspect, and everyone knows who it is,” Dr. Steven Le Comber, one of the co-authors of the report, told the BBC. All the locations found by the researchers were places Gunningham lived in or frequented.

The “unmasking” of Banksy is only one example of what geographic profiling can achieve. Le Comber, a biologist, said that the team did it partly “to see if it would work” and to demonstrate its wide applicability. Geographic profiling has also been used to identify sites of disease outbreaks, like malaria.

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