Graffiti and Art: Who arbitrates on things such as these?

A French artist who calls himself “Invaderwashere” has really been coming, marauding on sacred Bhutanese historical sites and cultural monuments. It is amazing how he even was let in to some of the most revered and sanctified places like Paro Taktsang and Cheri Goemba.

This French may be a well-known artist in his own right, but what right has he to ridicule and make light of the Bhutanese culture and tradition. But the question is how and with whose aid he entered the country. Yet more, how did we fail to see what he was doing with our monastery walls and parts of natural landscapes?

Art is expression or application of human creative skill and imagination, typically in a visual form such as painting or sculpture to be appreciated primarily for their beauty or emotional power. Under the umbrella of art comes creative activities like literature, dance, painting and music, among others.

But they come with responsibility. Art must find its place. Otherwise they can be utterly disrespectful or too invasive.

There is today a need to draw a clear line between cultural and traditional art works and graffiti – writing or drawings scribbled, scratched, or painted illicitly on a wall or other surface, often within public view. Recently, Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche’s film Hema Hema: Sing Me a Song While I Wait faced ban by Bhutan InfoComm and Media Authority because the film, according to the authority, was “not in keeping” with Bhutanese tradition and culture. The debate we face today with the French artist is no different.

Because expression of creative skills and imaginations are informed largely by cultural beliefs and elements, defining where one falls is critically important. What have we to say about the many tigers, lions, flowers and glossy pink phalluses on our walls? Where do they belong? Are they art or graffiti?

Not many years ago, some authorities said rock paintings were inappropriate even as they were deeply associated with the religious and cultural beliefs of the communities. Graffiti as a developing art form has been creating controversies and disagreement amongst city officials and law enforcement the world over.

The issue really is with the legality of it all.  Who arbitrates on things such as these?

1 reply
  1. irfan
    irfan says:

    I truly understand the sentiments associated with this story. At times, it gets difficult to accept something as right or wrong without the sentiments involved directly. A graffiti by definition is considered an illicit or illegal expression of sentiments or emotions for public viewing and it’s mostly done on walls.

    But when we mention graffiti as an accepted form of artistic expression; it’s mostly about the use of the canvases for the art work. The canvas can be anything and restrictions or conditions are usually applied to the use the of such canvases. But that’s my personal opinion. The subject or theme for a graffiti art work, deemed legal, can vary from something truly religious to even something that’s political depending on the artist’s creative vision with his work.

    Moreover, a religious and cultural art work against one that’s non religious or belonging to a different culture is a different debate all together. What’s legal as art works within the scope of Buddhism, both locally or otherwise, is another point of debate. And we also know that this artist has eventually posted the photos of his art works on Instagram and that’s where the online reactions started to pour in with followers logging in to comment. That way, even this comment posted by me becomes some kind of graffiti work on the digital wall of Kuensel. Some will accept it, while others will disapprove. And there is moderation in place as well.

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