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 2015 murals in Sheung Wan and Stanley Market , 2016 murals in Sham Shui Po and 2017 murals in Wong Chuk Hang and Yau Ma Tei should be around for a while. HKwalls also helped Agnès b celebrate 20 years in Hong Kong by commissioning art on thirteen Sheung Wan walls. Nearby PMQ is home to a growing collection of street art and check if galleries Above Second or Opera Gallery are currently exhibiting street art. Take a quick MTR trip to Sai Ying Pun to see the Love is Wild, Walls of Change murals and use the HK Urban Canvas app maps of 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 a rotating murals by local and international artists. On Kowloon side, 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 – See the 2014 map and this 2015 map (or this free Voicemap audio tour) for HKwalls art in Sheung Wan. Head to Stanley market before 8am or after 6pm to see the 27 shutters painted for the 2015 festival. See this 2016 map for HKwalls art in Sham Shui Po and this 2017 map (or this free iDiscover app tour) for HK Walls art in Wong Chuk Hang and Yau Ma Tei.
- The Love is Wild ‘Walls of Change’ street art is in Ki Ling Lane (Sai Ying Pun MTR Exit B3), Chung Ching Street and Western Street, Sai Ying Pun.
- Check for exhibitions at the following galleries:
- 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 maps of 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, 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 to be decorated with artwork and renamed as part of the Smart City project. The project is underway and due for completion in 2018. This BackStreet Art 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? 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 posts by Alex’s about hunting space invaders on her blog BerlinHongKong (and Instagram @berlinerkindl_in_hk) and used her wonderful 2014 Space Invader Map to search for them. 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$1,840,000 (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$1,960,000.
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 when people have attempted 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.
I’ve created this map which shows the location of the surviving 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. See the 2014 map, four of these pieces still exist today:#2 Mark Goss x XEME – The Hollywood Building, Upper Station Street,#4 Mr Barlo, rooftop visible from Po Hing Fong, #6 4GET x Stern Rockwell – The alley behind Identity Gallery and #12 WAIS – The alley near Upper Station Street and Hollywood Road.
The rest were painted over as part of the 2015 HKwalls festival which saw 34 artists painting in Sheung Wan and the Stanley Market. Take a self-guided walking tour to see the 2015 Sheung Wan art using this 2015 map or this free Voicemap audio tour and head to Stanley market before 8am or after 6pm to see the 27 shutters painted for the 2015 festival.
HKwalls partnered with Vans to hit Sham Shui Po in March 2016, with 38 artists painting buildings, walls, shutters and trucks, see this 2016 map of the stationary art.
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.
Love is Wild ‘Walls of Change’
The Love is Wild ‘Walls of Change’ street art campaign in aid of endangered wildlife ran in November 2016 with six street artists (Shepard Fairey (OBEYGIANT), HOPARE, Sean Lee-Davies (HYBRYD), SZABOTAGE, Adam Lo and Alana Tsui) painting in Sai Ying Pun. Start in Ki Ling Lane (Sai Ying Pun MTR Exit B3) and visit nearby Chung Ching Street, Western Street to see the murals.
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, Hong Kong 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 25 step-front murals by seven artists; Bao Ho, Brainrental, Candy Bird, Ceet Fouad, Lee Tae-ho, Omni Art and Pokke104.
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). The project is underway and due for completion in 2018. Artists have so far included 4Get, Sautel Cago, Pantone C, Dylan Kwok, Addison Karl, Renny Cheng and Bo Law. This BackStreet Art map shows key locations, but check back as the project progresses.