It’s been several years since I last found myself in Hong Kong, and although the street art scene back then was already quickly growing, it looks like it has officially tipped in popularity and accessibility in more recent years, joining the fluctuating realm of many other temporal public art works. This shift has a lot to do with the global wave of contemporary art, which has captured the imaginations of youths around the world as they increasingly dismiss the traditional platforms of galleries and museums and use their own neighborhoods as canvases for their creative output. These artists have found new ways to push their craft, and with the Internet at their fingertips, it’s refreshingly easy for anyone to produce an artwork on a creative whim, day or night, and then share their work with the countless eyeballs online.
Photos by Bruce Yan, SCMP
Another significant factor for the uptick in Hong Kong street art appears to be the support of local businesses. You can now walk through different parts of Hong Kong and come across various restaurants, bars, and other random businesses with blank exterior walls, that are now adorned with murals, installations, and other site-specific projects. Although many of these small businesses originally may have had little to do with contemporary art, their support and cultivation of new artists at the local level should not come as a surprise—Hong Kong’s contemporary art community is extremely diverse and broadly educated, so newer approaches to art is often embraced rather than challenged (a characteristic that in many ways even New York and Los Angeles could learn from).
During the 2014 Hong Kong democracy protests last fall, often referred to as the Umbrella Revolution (which is not over by any means, as pro-democracy protests continued this past weekend), various public art works sprang up around Mong Kok, the Admiralty, and Causeway Bay, reflecting the unprecedented wave of protesters in a culture usually reticent about anything against the grain of the government. Most of the artworks were at high risk for destruction by the police. During this time, museums officials rejected public pleas to offer havens for these important works, undoubtedly not wanting to 'rock the boat' with their own jobs, an understandable circumstance when museums are officially, or unofficially, state-run. Eventually, it was the private collectors and small galleries that stepped up and provided shelter for them.
With the advent of nontraditional venues and more brazen opportunities for public art, newer generations of artists will be able to thrive a lot more than they once did, even if they have to be a bit crafty with how they proceed. Hong Kong is in a unique geopolitical position that will likely provide fertile grounds for upcoming generations and their own cultural power for years to come.