Street artist invades sacred Bhutan sites with artwork - and some fans are angry

Street artist invades sacred Bhutan sites with artwork - and some fans are angry
A mandala-inspired mosaic artwork created by street artist Invader.
PHOTO: Instagram/invaderwashere

He's known for leaving his mosaic artwork at random spots around the world. Last week, street artist Invader's latest destination which he 'decorated' was the Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan.

Using ceramic tile mosaics, Invader created a dragon (Bhutan is known as the Land of the Thunder Dragon), a mandala, a levitating monk, a mountain, and an archery target board - all of which are symbolic to the country dubbed as the world's 'last Shangri-la'.

These artworks are modelled after Space Invaders, an iconic Japanese video game from the 70s, and were placed in various parts of western Bhutan. 

But affixing his pixelated graphics at sacred Buddhist sites there has angered even his fans, reported artnet News

And one such location is the complex near the famous Tiger's Nest, a 17th century monastery that sits on a cliff and is dedicated to Guru Rinpoche, also known as the Second Buddha.

 

Mastermind

A post shared by Invader (@invaderwashere) on

A witness who saw the French artist installing the works told artnet News that he saw "somebody defacing a building" and although he loves art and history, it "crossed an ethical-moral boundary".

Another site was Bhutan's first monastery, Cheri Goemba, an important place for meditation retreats that was established in the 17th century. The artist had cemented a mandala-inspired piece on a wall, writing on his Instagram: "My first piece in Bhutan and my first piece inside a monastery." 

He also claimed that he had the "blessing from the monks".

Some observers have taken to Invader's Instagram account, telling the artist off for being disrespectful. 

A Bhutanese wrote: "I respect artist(s) and their work but when they start encroaching and pushing their work of art to fuel their own ego, it is a no-no for me. 

"From all the praises that you seem to get from your fans, (it) looks like your ego will allow you to invade more places and sacred places. Respect other cultures and their traditions."

 

More pieces for Bhutan...

A post shared by Invader (@invaderwashere) on

Another wrote: "It is disrespectful. It just says something about you and your entitlement that your 'story' belongs where you see fit."

However, some Invader fans have also praised him for his works and reckoned he had expressed religious sensitivity. 

The artist also took to Instagram to respond to criticism: "I know that some people will scream that it is disrespectful to have practised my art in Bhutan. Personally I don't think so. My practice tells a story and I'm proud to have written some pages in that wonderful country.

"Many of the Bhutanese I've met were enchanted with it and I thank them for their kindness and their great hospitality. Kaadinchhey la (thank you)."

It seems like the Bhutanese are indeed enchanted - or angered - by his works as some of them have started to disappear just after a week.

Photographer Pawo Choyning Dorji posted a photo of Invader's damaged dragon piece, which shows bits of smashed tiles on the ground and remnants of the artwork left on a wall.

Pawo apologised and said that it was "saddening but also embarrassing for us as a nation".

 

Over the past week, I was so happy to find out that internationally acclaimed street artist @invaderwashere was in Bhutan. He travels the world and works incognito, putting up his amazing installations, taking in local themes and inspirations. His installations are celebrated the world over and has a cult following where his fans travel to the countries he has put up his installations to view the installations. His works have lead to numerous exhibitions and publications. While the rest of the world celebrates creativity and works of art, this is how Invader’s installations in Bhutan look after just a week. We were worried that people might steal the installations to sell them, but for it to be vandalized like this is so saddening but also embarrassing for us as a nation. @invaderwashere we are sorry.

A post shared by Pawo Choyning Dorji (@pawo) on

Invader's art, which fetches hundreds of thousands at auctions, has been stripped off buildings across Paris by thieves who are suspected of selling off the horde. There have also been instances where his works have been stolen and sold.

However, it is not known whether the damage to his pieces in Bhutan are a response to his guerilla tactic at installing artwork around town. Whether Invader had sought permission from the monastery, monks or even the Bhutanese government for sticking his pixelated graphics there is also unclear.

According to artnet News, Invader had stuck 10 art pieces throughout Bhutan during his trip there. His mosaic tiles are normally cemented onto building facades, possibly causing damage to the walls if they were to be removed.

Invader, whose modus operandi is similar to renowned street artist Banksy, has a cult following where travellers are known to seek out his works in various parts of the world. Not much is known about him other than that he was born in 1969 and graduated from the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris. 

klim@sph.com.sg

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