The Capital’s unknown alien invasionThis graffiti artist invaded the Kathmandu space over a decade ago, but many do not have a clue.
While walking up the pedestrian bridge in Jamal, a white creature stares at everyone on its red-tile background. A little further west from Jamal, in Indra Chowk, a similar mosaic is pasted on the wall of a house. This creature is white too, with a red background, fashioned in classic mosaic styling.
Walking from Thamel towards Jaisi Dega, there are around 28 of these pictures. The tiles have been there since 2008, but people have no idea what they are, who kept them or why they have been placed there.
“I don’t know what this is. Some guy wanted to put something outside our house back then. As it was only a tile, we let him do it. He told us it was art,” said Shyam Krishna Shrestha, a resident of Shree:Gha.
The tiles were pasted at Shrestha’s house by a French artist known as Invader. Invader, who calls himself an Unidentified Free Artist, has been visiting countries and pasting tiles of 1978 arcade game Space Invaders’ characters since 1998. The entire project has been titled “Space Invader” by the French artist, who has covered 79 cities since he began. There is also one up in the International Space Station.
“My project is about liberating art from the usual alienators that museums or institutions can be. But it is also about freeing the Space Invaders from their video games and TV screens, to bring them into our physical world,” Invader told the Post via email. “That is how I ended up in Nepal in March 2008.”
While he first wanted to create a series of "canvases", he realised that tiles were the perfect material to display pieces directly on walls. The first city where the invaders popped up was in the capital of his own country.
“I first started to do that in Paris, then started going global,” Invader said. “I wanted to spread my work in some cities far from Europe. Kathmandu sounded very exotic to me, so I decided to organise a trip there. I had put up around 28 tiles in Kathmandu.”
One of the first people to realise the tiles in Nepal were from the famous video game was writer David Ways, from The Longest Way Home.
“I first noticed the Space Invaders tiles in 2009,” said Ways. “I didn't know at the time they were the artwork of the French artist, but I recognised the tiles were from the arcade game. When I asked people what they thought it was, many replied it was God.”
After noticing them in Nepal, he then started to keep an eye out for them in other countries he visits around Asia. “I found one in Varanasi and one in Bangkok,” said Ways.
He then researched extensively and found out about the invaders. Later, he started asking locals. “Young people thought it was an image of a god. Graffiti artists thought it was art. Some felt it was a political statement,” said Ways. “ Most people didn't really care but thought it was nice someone would come over here and help Nepal’s art scene.”
Despite his genial reception in Nepal, Invader has been jailed for some of his work. There are some countries where he cannot travel anymore for fear of being prosecuted.
“In Kathmandu everything went fine, people were curious about my work and they were enthusiastic because they understood it was an artistic project,” said Invader. “That is what I liked the most about Kathmandu. Such cool people all around.”
But most of his work was destroyed in the 2015 earthquake. While he felt he could come back and relay some of the tiles, the work was actually done for him by his followers.
“Since I have created Flashinvaders, a free game app for phones where the players have to find and picture my mosaics around the world, there are some people who are recreating the missing mosaics in order to be able to play and get some points. That is what happened in Kathmandu. Some people travelled there and have recreated some of the missing mosaics,” said Invader.
When asked what he would like his art to be known as, he says it is a combination of contemporary art, a game and a graffiti. “I guess we can add a lot more to what it is called,” he said.
For followers and fans, he has also created a database for every single art piece which has details of pictures, date of birth, address and other info.
He adds there isn’t any specific message he is trying to say. “I am into artistic experimentation, rather than political opposition. I like the concept of decontextualising art to bring it to the streets, to surprise everyday people, while constantly creating new pieces. This project, I hope, will leave a print not only on the streets but also on the mind.”