While street art in cities such as London, Paris, Berlin and Hamburg is celebrated, protected or at least tolerated, Hong Kong has a different attitude. The Hong Kong’s Highways Department is quick to remove any unauthorised art, such as the systematic removal of Invader’s 2014 Hong Kong wave. Authorised art has a longer life span, and the HKwalls murals across the city should be around for a while. HKwalls also helped Agnès b celebrate twenty years in Hong Kong by commissioning art on thirteen Sheung Wan walls. Nearby PMQ is home to a growing collection of street art and galleries Above Second and Opera Gallery often host street art exhibitions.
Take a quick MTR trip to Sai Ying Pun to see Art Lane and use the HK Urban Canvas app self-guided walking tours to see 20 shutters in Wan Chai, Central and Western District painted to reflect the local businesses, culture and history. Further afield the Vaford Gates in Chai Wan feature rotating murals by local and international artists.
On Kowloon side, in addition to HKwalls in Sham Shui Po, the Graffiti Wall of Fame in Mongkok contains a constantly changing facade of art and the Kwun Tong back alleys are being decorated with street art over the next few years, providing another location for street art fans to visit.
Hong Kong Street Art – Quick References
- Invader – this map.
- HKwalls – this map. Head to Stanley market before 8am or after 6pm to see the shutters painted for the 2015 festival.
- Art Lane is comprised of Ki Ling Lane (Sai Ying Pun MTR Exit B3) and nearby Chung Ching Street between Des Voeux Road West and Queens Road West, Sai Ying Pun.
- Check for exhibitions at the following galleries:
- Above Second (9 First Street, Sai Ying Pun, 13:00-19:00 Tues–Sat)
- Opera Gallery (W Place, 52 Wyndham St, Central, 10:30-19:30 Mon-Sat, 12:00-18:00 Sun).
- PMQ, the former Police Married Quarters at 35 Aberdeen Street, Central, Hong Kong contains small galleries and exhibitions and is decorated with street art including Invader, D*face and the Hong Kong On Steps art project.
- The HK Urban Canvas app (Apple and Android) contains self-guided walking tours to see 20 shutters in Wan Chai, Central and Western District painted to reflect the local businesses, culture and history. Visit when businesses are closed and shutters down in the early morning, evening or on a Sunday.
- The Vaford Gates (Gate 2 & 5, Paramount Building, No.12 Ka Yip Street, Chai Wan, Hong Kong) are two large shutters which feature rotating murals by local and international artists.
- The Graffiti Wall of Fame is an alleyway running between 111 Argyle Street and Bute Street in Mongkok, Kowloon. The alleyway contains a constantly changing facade of art from local and international artists.
- Kwun Tong alleyways are being decorated with artwork and renamed as part of the Smart City project. This map shows key locations.
In the Eye of the Beholder
As mentioned in my article on European Street Art Tours, street art can be loosely defined as visual art in a public location and takes a variety of forms including paint, stencil, paper paste ups, stickers, installations and yarn bombing. Opinions vary regarding what should be considered street art. Is there a difference between street art and graffiti? Is graffiti for the graffiti artist’s ego while street art is for the public? Does street art need to be unsanctioned, or could the artist have permission or be paid for materials or their time? Is it only street art if the artist has complete creative freedom? I think art is in the eye of the beholder, if it’s art in a public place and you like it, its street art.
Invader is a renowned French street artist who uses tiles to create artwork of pixilated characters inspired by 1970-80s video games. Invader has ‘invaded’ over 60 cities in 30 countries. During seven invasions of Hong Kong from 2001-17 Invader created and installed 132 pieces including 19 in 2001, 6 in 2002, 48 in January of 2014 and an occupy central themed piece in late 2014, 24 in 2015, 1 in 2016 and 33 in 2017.
I learned of the 2014 wave from Alex, Storyteller for Wanderlust Walks Hong Kong who had blogged about the invasion, including a map which I used to search the streets for invaders. Unfortunately, the Hong Kong’s Highways Department removed nearly all the iconic pieces in February and March 2014 on “safety grounds” and Alex’s map changed from a walking tour guide to a record of destruction. The incident sparked a public outcry, with street art fans criticising the government for removing free art concurrent with spending billions of dollars on the West Kowloon Cultural District.
Invader responded after being alerted by social media of the destruction:
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 and I hope it won’t happen in Hong Kong either, and that those removals are just an illustration of the rule of [that] “10 per cent” of my creations are usually destroyed quickly.
I am of course very saddened and affected by these removal actions. I fully understand that having my work damaged, stolen or removed is an inherent risk with displaying contemporary art in an urban environment. I knew that Hong Kong was very strict with artworks displayed in the streets and that the government did remove nearly all of Tsang Tsou Choi’s (King of Kowloon) works.
Invader refers to street calligraphy by the late “King of Kowloon” Tsang Tsou-choi being whitewashed by the government. The King of Kowloon’s artwork now sells at Sotheby’s auctions for up to HKD$1.84 million (calligraphy on a scooter). This has also been the case with Invader who recreated a mosaic of Hong Kong Phooey, named “Alias HK_58”, on a glass panel which sold at a Sotheby’s auction for HKD$1.96 million.
In May 2015, Invader returned to Hong Kong and while an exhibition of his work (aptly named ‘WipeOut’) was on at PMQ, he hit the streets installing a further 23 invaders and restoring at least one of the existing invaders. At the time of writing, the Hong Kong’s Highways Department has not removed any, however the recent Sotheby’s auction has illustrated the value of the invaders and spawned a new threat, treasure hunters. At least two of the invaders have been damaged by people attempting to chip them off the wall for personal use or sale. This is a futile act as tiles cemented to a wall do not come off cleanly in one piece and cannot be certified as authentic for sale.
Invasions of Hong Kong also occurred in 2016 (one invader) and 2017 (33 invaders). Some invaders have been removed, but some have been replaced by the Invader Reactivation Team. I’ve created this map which shows the location of the surviving and reactivated invaders. I recommend getting around and seeing them sooner, rather than later.
Recognizing that street art needs to be created with permission to survive in Hong Kong, HKwalls started searching for legal walls for graffiti and street artists. A dozen Sheung Wan business owners donated their walls and HKwalls found artists to paint them, resulting in the inaugural HKwalls street art and graffiti festival in 2014.
All but four of the 2014 walls were painted over as part of the 2015 HKwalls festival which saw 34 artists painting in Sheung Wan and the Stanley Market. Head to Stanley Market before 8am or after 6pm to see those that remain of the 27 shutters painted for the 2015 festival.
HKwalls partnered with Vans for the 2016-19 festivals starting in Sham Shui Po in 2016 with 38 artists painting buildings, walls, shutters and trucks. 2017 saw over 30 artists painting in the streets of Wong Chuk Hang (and one building in Yau Ma Tei). 2018 featured Central and Western district and 2019 Wan Chai. I have combined each years map into a MEGAMAP available here. On the map I have included the Youth Outreach Centre in Sai Wan Ho where a number of artists painted in Feb 2019
HKwalls also teamed up with Agnès b in 2015 to celebrate 20 years in Hong Kong with the ’Love Goes On’ ‘Far East Far West’ Graffiti Hub Exhibition which included murals on the streets of Sheung Wan. Eight artists (Barlo, Caratoes, Cleon Peterson, Lek & Sowat, the Parent’s Parents collective, Philippe Baudelocque, SINIC and Wais) created art on 13 walls sourced by HKwalls. Find them in CAFÉ L.P.G. Gough Street and walls in the Gough Street, Shin Hing Street, Mee Lun Street, Kau U Fong, Hollywood Road and Aberdeen St.
Ki Ling Lane (Sai Ying Pun MTR Exit B3) and nearby Chung Ching Street between Des Voeux Road West and Queens Road West comprise ‘Art Lane’ an urban project commissioned by Henderson Land. There is plenty to see here including my favourites; Ceet Fouad’s Los Chicanos with Bruce Lee and Elsa Jean Dieu’s Marilyn Munroe and Shirley Temple. Neilhw’s Art Lane in lights is lovely too.
It is worth checking on current exhibitions at Above Second (9 First Street, Sai Ying Pun, 13:00-19:00 Tues–Sat) and Opera Gallery (W Place, 52 Wyndham St, Central, 10:30-19:30 Mon-Sat, 12:00-18:00 Sun) which often feature street artists.
PMQ is the former Police Married Quarters at 35 Aberdeen Street, Central which was revitalised as a site for creative industries. Wander through its labyrinthine halls to discover small galleries and exhibitions and find the street art. Two invaders are on pillars visible from the main entrance, and a D*face mural features above the elevator nearest to Hollywood Road.
The Hong Kong On Steps art project saw the installation of 20 step-front murals by 11 artists, ten from Hong Kong; Stars & Tart, Smile Maker, Sisi Li, Parents Parents, Omni Art, Messy Desk, Joy of Madness, Humchuk, Deep and Daisy Xie & AngryAngry and Prof Lee Tae Ho from South Korea.
HK Urban Canvas
HK Urban Canvas is a community art project comprised of 20 shutters in Wan Chai, Central and Western District painted to reflect the local businesses, culture and history. Artists include Devil and Smile Maker, Noble Wong, Marka Mak, Bao Ho, Wong Wing Fung and local residents. The free HK Urban Canvas app (Apple and Android) contains maps of self-guided walking tours to see the shutters and other local places of interest. Visit when businesses are closed and shutters down in the early morning, evening or on a Sunday.
The Vaford Gates (Gate 2 & 5, Paramount Building, No.12 Ka Yip Street, Chai Wan, Hong Kong) are two large shutters which feature rotating murals by local and international artists. Artists have included INSA, Cyrcle, How and Nosm, Alec Monopoly, Aaron Kai, and Li-Hill.
Hong Kong Graffiti Wall Of Fame
For street art in Mongkok, Kowloon, visit the Graffiti Wall of Fame, an alleyway running between 111 Argyle Street and Bute Street in Mongkok, Kowloon. The alleyway contains a constantly changing facade of art from local and international artists.
Kwun Tong Back Alleys
A number of back alleys in Kwun Tong are to be decorated with artwork and renamed as part of the Smart City project. The 36 alleyways will be divided into 18 pairs, with each set named according to traditional industries such as Din Lo Lane (circuit lane), Da Ban Lane (shirt making lane) and Yu Suen Lane (yogurt making lane). Artists include 4Get, Sautel Cago, Pantone C, Dylan Kwok, Addison Karl, Renny Cheng and Bo Law. This map shows key locations.