American fashion label Supreme has found itself in some international legal trouble with Thailand’s National Office of Buddhism (NoB). According to the Bangkok Post, the NoB has reached out to ask the clothing company to stop using images of revered monk Luang Phor Koon Parisutho and religious yant (sacred Thai script meant “to only to be tattooed by Buddhist holy men”) on their “Blessings Ripstop” shirts.
The shirt is part of Supreme’s 2021 Spring/ Summer collection, and the silkscreened photo in question shows the monk squatting and smoking a cigar with other religious items at his feet. While the photo is not officially registered with Thailand’s Department of Intellectual Property, unauthorized use of anything remotely religious has always been a sensitive matter in Thai culture, particularly for commercial purposes. In fact, in a country that is as much as 95% Buddhist, this can be considered highly offensive.
As reported by Mothership.sg, Koon’s grandson, known as Kru Dum, says the original photo was taken around 2002 or 2003 but with his grandfather’s permission and raised funds for the famous Wat Ban Rai temple. However, there has never been any other cleared use of the photo for fear of it being desecrated or ending up somewhere deemed unholy. And per current reports, neither the temple nor Koon’s family was contacted by Supreme for its use. Now, while the photo itself may not be registered, it is still possible that it is protected by copyright law. But what is certain, according to DIP director-general Vittikrai Leewiraphan, is that the yant is artistic property, so any kind of use without its creator’s consent would be a violation of intellectual property law.
For its part, Wat Ban Rai Temple has said it plans to reach out to Supreme and understand their intent for using the monk’s image before arriving at a final decision. Tawatchai Sanprasit, the temple manager, said in an official statement, “We will discuss the issue [with Supreme], and find out what the brand’s purpose is.”
However, for all the hubbub brought about by the shirt, note that it appears to have been removed from Supreme’s website and their Spring/Summer 2021 lookbook at the time of this article’s publishing.