French Artist Invader Defaces Bhutanese Monasteries
By Julee WJ Chung
French street artist Invader sparked outrage among his fans and the Bhutanese public for tagging several Buddhist sites with works in his signature style of ceramic-tile mosaics, modeled after the pixel graphics of the 1970s Japanese arcade shooting game Space Invaders.
According to the Bhutan’s online news source Kuensel, officials from the Division of Cultural Properties moved quickly to visit the temples and monasteries, and removed the installations, which include colorful 8-bit depictions of a levitating monk, a dragon and a bull’s-eye target.
From January 21, the artist has shared multiple Instagram posts of his latest endeavor accompanied by the hashtag #invaderwashere. His first video post revealed a mosaic Tibetan mandala affixed onto the interior wall of Cheri Goemba—Bhutan’s first and oldest monastery established in 1620 by the Tibetan Buddhist lama Ngawang Namgyal (1594–1651), who is known for unifying the Bhutanese state.
The artist claims to have received the “blessing of the monks” and permission from the “chief monk” to place his works on the walls of the 17th-century temple. The Bhutanese government is still investigating how Invader came to install the works.
Many observers have voiced their disapproval and disappointment in the artist for being “disrespectful” and “too invasive.” One local observer came upon the artist applying what looked like concrete paste to a building in the religious Tiger’s Nest complex, Artnet reports: “I was walking to meet my friends and all of a sudden I see somebody defacing a building in this most sacred of places [. . .] I studied art history, I love art, I like street art, but something about this crossed an ethical-moral boundary, especially as a visitor to another country.” Many have taken to Instagram to criticize the artist’s desecration of historic sites. One user wrote, “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.”
On January 30, Invader defended his actions via Instagram, stating: “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’m proud to have write some pages in that wonderful country.”
Invader’s guerrilla mosaics have been installed in 76 cities, and can reach six figures at auction. His works have been collected by the Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis and the Hong Kong Contemporary Art Foundation.
Julee WJ Chung is the assistant editor of ArtAsiaPacific.
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