The Street Artist Invader Has Struck Sacred Temples in Bhutan and Even His Fans Are Furious
The artist is known for plastering his mosaics around the world—but did he go too far when he targeted Buddhist temples?
The French street artist Invader is known for affixing his guerrilla mosaics, which evoke the pixelated graphics of 1970s arcade games, in out-of-the-way places. But his latest adventure has him placing his art on sacred Buddhist sites in Bhutan, and some fans are asking whether Invader’s art has become a bit too invasive.
“My first piece in Bhutan and my first piece inside a monastery,” Invader wrote on his Instagram account next to a video of one of his mosaics cemented to a wall of Cheri Goemba, Bhutan’s historic first monastery. The site was established in 1620 by Ngawang Namgyal (1594–1651), the Tibetan Buddhist lama known for having unified the Bhutanese state.
Invader’s work depicts a Tibetan mandala in his signature blocky style. It appears to be placed just below a large wall drawing of a Buddha.
Though the artist’s post suggested that he was working “with the benediction of the monks,” what exactly that meant was unclear. Invader did not respond to emails requesting comment.
One observer in Bhutan, who reached out to artnet News but asked to remain anonymous, said he personally encountered Invader as he was installing the works with what looked like a concrete paste to a building in the religious Tiger’s Nest complex.
“I was walking to meet my friends and all of a sudden I see somebody defacing a building in this most sacred of places,” he said. “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.”
In the past few days, Invader has posted photos of about 10 works in Bhutan. The source who contacted artnet News said that at least one, depicting a pixelated levitating monk, was placed on a building marked with a red line, indicating a sacred site.
When the man saw Invader at work in Bhutan, he claims to have confronted him, asking, “‘Who gives you the right to do this?'” In his telling, Invader responded, “I’m an artist. It’s a gift. You don’t understand.”
Even some of Invader’s fans are disappointed. “Don’t get me wrong I love your work but this seems more like ego than anything else,” wrote one on Instagram. “These are sacred places that are peaceful, balanced and it’s so obvious when you look at every photo you posted how much your art sticks out… I’m sorry man but you missed it on this one.”
“This is not art,” said another. “Just disrespect for a sacred place, for Bhutan and its wonderful people who welcomed you.”
The French artist, who is known for “invading” cities around the globe and plastering each with dozens of his mosaics, has also been defending himself on Instagram. On Monday he 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 don’t know why I should deprive Bhutan from this story. I’m proud to have left my trace in that wonderful country.”
UPDATE: An assistant for Invader emailed artnet News on Wednesday saying that the “chief” monk at Cheri Goemba gave the artist permission to install the work. He “even asked Invader to put it inside the temple, letting him choose between several locations,” she said.
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