Artist’s attempt to ‘clean’ Taiwan temple doors goes awry after he damages deity’s portrait
An alleged act of “civic-mindedness” gone wrong has landed a Spanish artist in trouble in Taiwan after he attempted to scrub the doors of a centuries-old temple but ended up defacing the entrance to the religious site.
The artist, identified by local media as a 53-year-old surnamed Fang, was arrested by Taipei police on Monday, after surveillance cameras captured him cleaning the doors of the Cixian Temple, located within the popular Shilin Night Market.
In images shared on social media, a man dressed casually in T-shirt and shorts can be seen scrubbing the entrance to the temple with some fabric, and a pail by his feet.
A photo of the door shared by the temple on social media showed its middle portion depicting a gatekeeper deity partially smeared and discoloured.
Upon nabbing Fang and his “cleaning materials” including some grease dissolvers, lacquer thinners and pine fragrances, the police found that he was intoxicated and detained him for offences against the Cultural Heritage Preservation Act.
If found guilty of destroying parts of a historical site or its subsidiary facilities, Fang faces a fine of up to NT$20 million (S$850,000) and a jail term that could reach up to five years.
Local police said they received a report at around 2am on Monday that the temple doors were being vandalised.
The chief of Taipei’s Wenlin police station said Fang told investigators he thought the doors to Cixian Temple had appeared to be in poor condition, and decided to clean it with some equipment without knowing it was a city-designated historical site.
The police said Fang worked in the fine arts sector and that he had experience working with other temples in Taiwan for roof restoration and repainting works.
They added that he had been drinking at his residence early on Monday morning before visiting the temple.
Cixian Temple has been located at its current site since 1864, serving as a place of worship dedicated to the Chinese sea goddess Mazu. It is designated by Taipei as an official Municipal Heritage Site.
According to its official site, the portraits of the deities featured on the temple’s doors were painted in 1960 by Tainan artist Chen Yu-feng.
Taipei’s bureau for cultural affairs said on Monday the temple has been tasked to come up with an emergency repair plan, including proposals for the craftsmen and materials required, within a month.
A temple spokesman expressed “heartfelt pain and zero tolerance” towards the disfiguration.
“It is not easy to preserve historical and cultural artefacts, with the purpose of leaving it for future generations. How dare you deliberately destroy them!” wrote the spokesman on Facebook on Monday.