A closer look at the increasingly popular Street Art scene in Hong Kong
Ever since I once watched the extremely interesting documentary on Banksy “Exit through the gift shop”) during one of my many long-haul flights and participated in an equally recommendable street art tour in Melbourne later on, I’ve been walking through city centers with different eyes. The world of graffitis, stencils, posters and stickers has fascinated me ever since. Surely, I was pretty excited when I found out that there has evolved an active street art scene in Hong Kong as well!
Street Art takes over Hong Kong
Admittedly, this scene is still fairly young, however, there are some organizations that support its development. For instance, there is the annual „HK Walls“ festival that takes place in a different location each March, which is funded by – amongst others – the Hong Kong Contemporary Art Foundation (HOCA). Events like these have not only boosted the presence of street art in Hong Kong, but also public perception.
The hotspot for spotting street art is for sure the area around Hollywood Road in Central Hong Kong, but also other quarters like Sham Shui Po in Kowloon, around Stanley Market or Wong Chuk Hang on the south side of Hong Kong Island offer interesting pieces. While people from my parents’ generation would probably still think that graffiti equals vandalism, lots of those artworks are unbelievably creative and the artists skillful. Moreover, these works pretty up the often unbearably ugly and weathered facades of old Hong Kong skyscrapers.
Fugaciousness – a bitter reality for street artists
In order to find out more about Street Art in Hong Kong, I decided to book a guided tour through Central and Sheung Wan. The tour run by Accidental Art Hong Kong would set me back by around 20€, but offer me background information about the scene and selected works which I would have missed when I had explored it just on my own, so it was definitely worth it. Directly in the beginning, my knowledgeable guide Candy told me Street Art was generally forbidden in Hong Kong. Only thanks to art-esteeming restaurant or house owners that want to support this movement or simply promote their own business with an outstanding mural on their facades, street art can be seen frequently in Hong Kong. Thus, the major share of artworks are commissioned works.
However, there is a risk that comes with this: In the light of horrendous rents in Hong Kong that only seem to be further increased, it frequently happens that a restaurant or other business has to give up and leave. The new tenant might then have a completely different idea what to do with his façade and even the most beautiful work of street art might be doomed. Nothing’s forever, especially not in Hong Kong. I don’t know whether I could handle that if I were a street artist. They definitely need a high degree of frustration tolerance.
Around Hollywood Road – Street Art’s epicenter in the 852
Our tour starts in Graham Road with the Instgram-famous work of Alex Croft on the Wall of G. O. D. – Goods of Desire shop. It reminds spectators of typical Hong Kong homes, especially those that were prevalent in the former Kowloon Walled City. After that, we turn our eyes towards the oversized portraits of Hollywood legends Marilyn Monroe, Audrey Hepburn and Charlie Chaplin as well as – around the corner – Frank Sinatra on the wall of Madera Hollywood Hotel.
Our next stop is hidden in the small Pak Tsz Lane park below Hollywood Road. Here you can find one mural of Sun Yat-Sen, the founder of the “modern China”, and his wife Ching Ling in front of two popular bars that serves as a friendly reminder to the partygoers not to be too noisy here and to respect the neighbours who live here. Another piece showing Sun Yat-Sen further down was masked with a fence by the officials as it did not fit into their concept how to design this park. Funny, as that very piece and the park generally serve the same purpose…
Continuing on Gough Street, we marvel at a beautiful mural at the corner of “Lovers & Friends”, which was created by Irish artist Fin DAC in his unique style depicting Asian women with masked eyes (here, exceptionally, he added a man as well, fitting to the theme “lovers & friends”). Using the example of Cath Love, a female artist living in Hong Kong, whose piece had been painted over by half, I learn about the “unwritten law” of Street Art. It says that one artwork may only be painted over if it will be replaced by a better one. This sounds difficult for me, as it can’t be judged in advance whether the replacing painting will really be more beautiful than the previous one. Moreover, it is totally subjective and lies in the eye of the beholder!? In this case, poor Cath suffered injustice (in my perspective), but luckily her works showing her alter ego “Jeliboo” can still be found in different locations all over Hong Kong.
The creme de la creme of worldwide street art scene in Hong Kong
Just another few steps further on the steps of Shin Hing Street we discover works whose creators should ring a bell even with people who think that (street) art is not their cup of tea. Here we find the comic-style drawn cat “Monsieur Chat” by French artist Thoma Vuille as well as one of the famous 3D-mosaics in the Pixel-style of early video games, made by an artist called “Invader”. His artwork was not officially commissioned, but since the owner of the building was an art lover, luckily he left it there, even if this “invasion” was against the law.
The most recent piece of art at this corner was created by Shepard Fairey, an artist famous for his works “Obey” (depicting wrestling legend Andre the Giant) or “Hope” (which was used during the United States presidential campaign in 2008, showing Barack Obama as bearer of the nation’s hope). In Hong Kong, he’s calling up for „visual disobedience“. The only A-list street artist that supposedly has not left his traces in Hong Kong so far, is Banksy. But who knows what might happen tomorrow?
Other street art hotspots in Hong Kong
After the official end of my tour, I continue roaming around the streets of Sheung Wan and discover some more beautiful and popular pieces like the portrait of a young woman made by French artist Hopare which is traversed by lots of coloured lines. Or “Fox multi-coloured”, by Thai artist Rukkit. Incited to discover more, I continue to Sham Shui Po after a short lunchbreak. The mobile internet page of HK Walls shows all artworks created in this quarter during the festival in 2016 on an interactive map which is a tremendous help in this bustling part of the city. My favourite here is definitely the 3D-bear named “Rainbow Thief” by Spanish artist Okuda (180 Tai Nan Street). However, also the 3D-shaped geometry on the wall of Golden Computer Center (by Peeta) and some other works further whip up my enthusiasm.
Finally, one day later I make my way to the location of 2017’s HK Walls festival and take the recently opened South Island Line down to Wong Chuk Hang. Here, there’s no single piece that is really outstanding like the one by Okuda in the previous year, however, this year’s festival in my opinion provided an even larger number of high quality pieces that can be seen during an one-hour stroll.
In case you can’t get enough of Street Art, you can also go and visit the “Graffiti Wall of Fame” in Mong Kok (Luen Wan Street) or – alternatively – stay in Wong Chuk Hang and appease your hunger after all that walking with a mouth-watering burger in the Secret Kitchen of The Butchers Club (18 Wong Chuk Hang Road, reservation in advance required).
What’s your favourite piece of street art in Hong Kong and where can it be found? Which hotspot did I miss to mention in this article? Or perhaps you might have noticed that one of the artworks mentioned here unfortunately does no longer exist. Please let me know and write a comment below! Thank you very much!
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(Note: This article is based on Street Art appreciation walks through Hong Kong in May 2017. In October 2017, I realized that the “Lovers & Friends”-Mural was gone as the shop had closed down as well. As I described: Nothing lasts forever. The good news is, however, that there are new artworks popping up continuously. You just have to go out and look for them!)