The artist’s picture of his graffiti on a choeten in Paro (Courtesy: #invaderwashere)

Graffiti on sacred sites sparks criticism

Some call it poor choice and inappropriate but many referred the graffiti of a French artist on the wall of Cheri monastery and a choeten on the way to Taktshang as disrespectful to the Bhutanese culture.

A French graffiti artist has come under strong criticism for posting a short video clip about what resembles a Tibetan mandala made of tiles on a wall inside Cheri monastery.

The graffiti on one of the choetens on the way to Taktshang resembles a monk reading scriptures.

He also posted pictures of his work on a culvert in Thinleygang, other areas in Paro and Thimphu on his Instagram handle, #invaderwashere.

The artist claimed that he had permission of the monk in-charge of the monastery to post his art on the wall of the monastery. Kuensel is yet to confirm it.

However, many social media users poured in their disappointments calling on the artist to respect culture of the country he visits. The users, including his fans, disapproved of his desecration of the sacred structures.

“It’s very inappropriate of you to literally work on the walls of our sacred places. There is some etiquette in Bhutan to be followed be it for the Bhutanese or for the tourists.”

Another user, Miakaw said, “Honestly it doesn’t even look beautiful here. It spoils the original charm and beauty of this structure.”

A Bhutanese living abroad, Dorji Wangchuk responded to the artist’s Instagram post, “Defacing old temples and disrespecting culture of places you travel to isn’t art. It is vandalism. We will remove your childish installations.”

Another Bhutanese user asked to take down this particular piece of artwork from Cheri monastery out of respect for cultural and spiritual heritage.

She said that just as none of his artwork would be allowed in the Sistine Chapel or any sacred heritage temple or monastery in any other country, Bhutanese also do not appreciate the 17th century walls being touched.

“Deeply disappointed with your guide and tour agency for allowing this,” she said.

Another user wrote, “this temple have braced almost everything and still they stand tall and that’s what makes it beautiful. You touching it for the purpose of making it look different is disheartening. I hope you continue your art but not on things that mean so much to many people.”

Little is known about the artist, besides the fact that he was born in 1969 and graduated from the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris.

Since 1998, the artist is recorded to decorate the walls in many streets across many countries with ceramic tile mosaics of Space Invaders, an iconic Japanese video game from the seventies, which some times landed him in trouble.

He reportedly began visiting other major cities, installing similar mosaics in Berlin, New York, Tokyo, and in many other locations. He was arrested in 2010 for placing a mosaic on the world-famous Hollywood sign and was forced to pay a fine.

On his Instagram account, which has 523,000 followers, the artist wrote: “I know that some people will scream that it is disrespectful to have practiced my art in Bhutan. Personally, I don’t think so. My practice tells a story and I am 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. Kadrincheyla.”

Home ministry officials were unavailable for comment.

It was learnt that this is not the first instance. Graffiti appeared on the walls, buildings and signboards in the capital in 2012. The signboards of Royal Thimphu College and Pelkhil Higher Secondary School in Thimphu were also covered with graffiti. The structures were repainted.

Tshering Palden

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