Banksy, Niobe and the ‘duped’ man from Gaza

Posted on: April 8, 2015 by

Newspapers around the globe last week reported on the story of a Palestinian man from Gaza, Rabie Dardouna, who had unwittingly sold a door with a Banksy mural on it. Banksy had reportedly taken a tour of Gaza following the 2014 Israel-Gaza War and put up a number of characteristic works on bombed-out buildings. This included the home of Mr Dardouna. All that remained was a door frame with its metal door.

The image painted on the door was of a hunched-over Niobe, a Greek goddess in mourning. Mr Dardouna knew nothing of Banksy – he reportedly didn’t know how to pronounce the artist’s name – and he knew nothing of the value of the work. He sold it to a local art dealer for $175. The dealer, Belal Khaled, is a local street artist who knew very well that the mural stood a good chance of being a Banksy.

Now Mr Dardouna wants the piece back. ‘I did not know that it was this valuable,’ he said to journalists. ‘I heard it can be sold for millions. Now I want the door back.’

The problem of course for Mr Dardouna is that he had agreed to the sale: there was a valid contract between him and Mr Khaled. Or was there? Under English common law, there would be ways of rendering the contract void. Mistake, for instance, that could potentially ‘negative’ the consent of Mr Dardouna. But English courts have read this possibility rather narrowly. One wonders whether Palestinian customary law, or indeed Islamic Sharia law (introduced to Gaza by Hamas), would be quite so tough on a seller in the position of Mr Dardouna. And there would be the added possibility of misrepresentation – or its equivalent under Gazan law. There was an obvious discrepancy between the knowledge of both parties as to the attribution and value of the work. Would this be enough to render the contract invalid? We will have to wait and see what comes of it.

The mural, for its sake, is stunning. There is a good chance that if the door sells in the Western market, the sale price will be exorbitant. And this will only add to the travails of poor Mr Dardouna.