The French artist who "invaded" Hong Kong with his street art has questioned the city's aspiration to become Asia's cultural hub, saying he is saddened to learn that the government has removed his gift to the city.
In a statement sent to the South China Morning Post, the artist, known only as Invader, said the Hong Kong government was the first public authority to have removed any of the street art that he has created in cities around the world.
"Having invaded more than 60 cities around the world, I have never faced a situation where a public authority would systematically and rapidly remove the art from the streets," wrote Invader, who was in Hong Kong for the third time last month to create 48 new works at various locations.
"I am of course very saddened and affected by these actions … To the Hong Kong authorities, in case they intend to wipe out the entire invasion colony, I only ask: 'What message would you send to your citizens? What modern cultural heritage do you want to leave them? What is the real place of art in your beautiful city?'"
The Post reported on Tuesday that a mosaic picturing characters from the classic arcade game Pac-Man had been removed from a wall on King's Road, Fortress Hill. The Highways Department said it ordered its removal to ensure public safety. The department has been criticised before for painting over street calligraphy by the late "King of Kowloon" Tsang Tsou-choi.
Invader adopted his name from the classic arcade game Space Invaders. He travels around the world from city to city, using ceramic tiles to create mosaics inspired by the coarse pixel images of characters in games from the 1970s and '80s.
The street artist is represented by galleries in Europe and Japan, and his artworks have been displayed in white-walled galleries, museums and institutions. His creations are traded on the art market, but he also wants the public to appreciate his works in their daily lives through his artistic "invasion" of city streets.
The artist first "invaded" Hong Kong in 2001, leaving behind 19 works. He added six more in 2002.
On his first visit to the city, he met "King of Kowloon" Tsang, who was known for his calligraphy on lampposts, utility boxes, walls and pillars throughout the city.
"I knew Hong Kong was very strict with art in the streets and that the government removed nearly all of the King of Kowloon's works," Invader wrote.
But the government's actions appeared to contradict its aspiration to become the cultural hub of Asia, he argued.
As more international galleries opened their Asian outposts in Hong Kong, with the Art Basel taking place in the city and the West Kowloon visual culture museum M+ in the works, the government's attitude towards art and culture must change, he said.
Invader said his work was "a way to enhance people's everyday life". "They don't need to go to museums or art galleries. They can just look up on the walls and maybe be touched by my 'urban acupuncture'," he said.