Tiffany Geluz and Paul Bryan Bio 

A Manila exhibit featuring the works of anonymous English graffiti artist Banksy reignited debates about artistic freedom and the commodification of street art. 

Banksy, known for his provocative stencils tackling social and political issues, has always challenged the status quo. His strategies in conveying his ‘guerilla-style’ works have themes of satire, subversion, dark humor, sardonic wit and irony. 

He gained the spotlight in the 1990s due to his art that thrives in public spaces – a deliberate snub to traditional museums and their perceived commercialization.

Even if graffiti is typically illegal as it involves painting on a property without authorization and is categorized under vandalism, Filipinos resonate with Banksy’s advocacy, which leads to efforts to make it accessible.

However, the “Banksys’ Universe Manila” exhibit’s approach has sparked discussions and controversies due to the manner it is being displayed.

A partnership between Childhope Philippines, a non-government organization, and the exhibit organizers raises questions about the execution of this attempt. 

Timeline of events 

The controversy surrounding the Banksy Universe Manila exhibit began brewing on April 22.

The Metropolitan Museum of Manila (The Met) in Taguig teased netizens with a Facebook post showing an image reminiscent of Banksy’s art style. The caption, “Spraying soon. ‘Art is not a crime,’ fueled the anticipation with hashtags #BanksyUniverse and #BanksyUniversePH.

On the same day, the Bonifacio Global City (BGC) also promoted the event with the same message on their Facebook page with the same caption, but this post was later removed, adding a layer of confusion to the situation. 

Just a day later, on April 23, Pest Control, the official channel for Banksy, stepped in to clarify.

Through a statement on their website shared by illustrator and creative director Rob Cham, they made it clear that they were not involved in exhibiting Banksy’s artwork in different countries. This announcement cast doubt on the legitimacy of the Manila exhibit. 

Despite the controversy, The Met addressed the situation on April 26.

The Taguig museum acknowledged the “BANKSY UNIVERSE | MANILA 2024” exhibit as a collaboration with the Banksy Universe team.  However, they were also transparent in stating that the exhibit was not officially sanctioned by Banksy.

On May 14, a month after their teaser, the much-talked-about Banksy Universe opened its doors in BGC.

Featuring reproductions of the graffiti artist’s work alongside original pieces from private collections, the exhibit is set to run until November 20

Admission fees amounted to PHP 550 for all access day pass. Discounted rates for senior citizens and people with disabilities brought the price down to PHP 440, while a student discount cost around PHP 275.

Questioning the purpose, authenticity

The Met justified the exhibit as a “unique opportunity for Filipinos to learn more about Banksy’s art,” and emphasized the “universality of the many piercing social, political and domestic issues it raises.”

Some, however, see a contradiction. In his opinion article at The Freeman, Joseph Gonzales explained that The Met resides within the wealthy confines of BGC, and BGC is the only area where the exhibit will be featured. This raised questions about whether the Taguig museum truly holds responsibility for the entire exhibit. 

But The Met is not alone in showing privately owned Baksy collections. Gonzales also mentioned similar exhibits with entry fees have been held in Bangkok (Thailand), Ontario (Canada), and London (England).

Bambina Olivares-Wise, The Met Special Exhibitions and Projects Consultant, told the press that they recognize the public sentiments and frustrations of the situation, but she added their non-profit status and claimed that they are not doing the exhibit for profit. 

Olivares-Wise even encouraged Filipinos to experience the exhibit, believing that the people resonate strongly with the works of the artist. Citing a Banksy quote, she said the exhibit is guided by Banksy’s quote: “I still encourage anyone to copy, borrow, steal, and amend my art for amusement, academic research or activism.”

Adding to the issue, Banksy Universe spokesperson Chris Johnson stressed that the exhibit’s target audience is the ‘greater population of Manila’ and explained that it is funded by the organizers themselves.

People enraged

The irony lies in artistic freedom and how many Filipino street artists employ similar guerilla tactics as Banksy, yet they are subjected to rejections, limited access to materials and even arrests. 

Some netizens aptly state that the Philippines has its own “homegrown Banksys,” referencing the case of the cultural activist group Panday Sining.

In 2019, Panday Sining members were arrested for painting public walls and declared persona non grata by the Manila City Council for vandalizing public walls within the capitol including those in U.N. Avenue and Lagusnilad Pass. 

Panday Sining also shared an image on their Instagram featuring the activists who are similar to Banksy but have been detained. This image featured Aldeen Yanez, Alvin Fortaliza, Amanda Echanis, Frenchie Mae Cumpio and JP Verzosa. 

Activist groups like Anakbayan and the Concerned Artists of the Philippines strongly condemned the arrest by reiterating the ‘hypocrisy’ of allowing political tarpaulins and gang symbols while criminalizing artistic expression.

Extending the controversy from the venue issue,  when netizens inquired if local street artists would then be allowed to paint walls within the business district area, BGC responded that they do not condone vandalism as all the works that they display undergo the process of approval and permit. 

“We do not condone any form of vandalism around BGC. All our wall art, murals, and exhibits are pre-approved and permitted,” BGC replied in the comment which was edited later on. 

Fans emphasized that Banksy’s art is anarchism and that such a display of his art in a museum is in direct opposition to his beliefs – being against consumerism – and the “goal” that the exhibit aims to achieve.  

With all the irony of the Banksy Universe Manila Exhibit ranging from its setting to its fee, the exhibition's essence and purpose become questionable and doubtful as it strays away from the themes and ideals of the artist. 


Despite the long prevalence of graffiti art as a form of artistic expression and activism, there are no current national laws that seek to address this. 

Local ordinances are alternatively approved to deal with graffiti as seen as a form of vandalism. 

Senate Bill 3042  “Anti-Vandalism Act of 2009” was filed by Senator Antonio "Sonny"  Trillanes IV which attempted to clarify the definition of vandalism and the penalties imposed. 

Varying penalties are to be imposed depending on the offense committed. The following fines were to be paid on each offense - First Offense: Php 5,000, Second Offense: Php 8,000, Third Offense: 10,000. Imprisonment was also proposed to accompany the fine as a penalty for the Third Offense. 

Following this, the bill was not approved and did not ascent into law.