San Francisco

Banksy's 'Haight Street Rat' dons a new garment

A decade after its original debut, the "Haight Street Rat" has entered a new, socially responsible phase of its life. 

Originally painted by famed graffiti artist Banksy on a 2010 jaunt around San Francisco, the rat now wears a blue surgical mask, in a nod to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The artist who contributed to the update is unknown, but the rat's origins are well-documented.

Painted on the eastern elevation of the Red Victorian — then a landmark bed and breakfast, now a collective living space — the rat appeared overnight back in April 2010. It originally held a marker, alongside the words "This is where I draw the line."

Sami Sunchild, the then-owner of the Red Vic, gave art collector Brian Grief permission to cut the installation off the building in 2012. It became part of a traveling Banksy exhibition, touring galleries in locales as far-flung as Miami.

Grief offered the piece as a donation to SFMOMA, but the museum declined to take it without approval from Banksy. The painting's removal, and the thorny landscape around street art, ownership and artist approval, ultimately became the subject of a 2017 documentary, "Saving Banksy."

Sometime in 2017 — also apparently overnight — the rat was reinstalled by an unknown artist or artists, in an extremely close approximation of the original work. 

Is the mask the work of the same group? As with Banksy's identity, we may never know. But if you know who's behind it, send us a tip.

1665 Haight Street

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