Hong Kong…When making travel plans, where you go isn’t the only important factor – when you go has a part to play as well. This could be for a variety of reasons, such as the weather when people you know in the country might be available…or it could be that you want to coincide with our visit with a particular event that is happening in the place at the time.
Now, I’ll be honest, it very often doesn’t work out that way for me, and I tend to book the visit first, and see what happens to be going on there later (a symptom of my job, which restricts my travelling time to the school holidays). Fortunately for me, on my recent trip to Hong Kong, I had a friend in the country with his ear to the ground. And I was lucky enough to witness the HK Walls project that was going on in the Sham Shui Po district of the city, where I happened to be staying.
The HK Walls was a two-week project that ran in March 2016, and featured renowned graffiti artists from both Hong Kong and around the world taking ownership of wall space in the Sham Shui Po district so as to bring street art to the neighborhood; think of it as democratizing art instead of keeping it hermetically sealed away in exclusive museums.
Hunting down the individual artwork made for a fun, treasure hunt-esque experience, with the two pieces we saw that the artists were actually working on there and then being particular highlights. The best one of all – by the renowned Spanish artist Okuda – was a colorful, geometric based, pop-surrealist piece entitled ‘Rainbow Thief’ that covered the whole side of a building and was simply stunning.
The Sham Shui Po District isn’t the most obviously touristy, but there was a smattering of ex-pats and visitors joining the locals in seeking out these works of art. There was also a mini film crew on hand to document the artists at work, suggesting that this particular project was considered to be of enough cultural significance to be made known beyond the audience who happened to be willing/able to actively seek them out on the Hong Kong streets.
The street art of HK Walls isn’t anything unique of course, and you can find it in many places in the world (London, where I live, being one notable example). What made it stand out in my mind was the rationale behind the project, and where it was happening.
It was fantastic to see a suburb that – both geographically and spiritually – feels like the beating heart of Hong Kong be the arena for such an innovative and inclusive art project. Ultimately, as with all street art, it’s bringing art to the people in a creative and fun way, thus destroying the notion that art is only for a perceived elite. That it appeared here is further proof that Hong Kong remains distinct from the comparatively strait-jacketed way of life that is the norm on the mainland.