Introduction to Street Art in Hong Kong
There’s no doubt that Hong Kong is the busiest art hub in Asia, with a wealth of local and international galleries as well as art fairs. In recent years, street art in Hong Kong has also taken off with a vengeance. Wandering around some of the more colourful neighbourhoods often leads to discovering new public exhibitions of contemporary art. Whether you’re in Sheung Wan or Wong Chuk Hang, Sham Shui Po or Sai Kung, there’s nothing better than discovering new murals and stumbling upon your next favourite street artist. No longer dismissed as ‘graffiti’, the appearance of mainstream street art is a relatively new phenomenon that warrants not only attention, but also appreciation.
Thanks to organisations such as HKWALLS, artists have turned entire buildings and alleyways into public works of art, celebrating creativity, originality, and freedom of expression. The organisation is focused on creating opportunities for local and international artists alike, organising annual festivals for these artists to showcase their talent. In addition, regular programmes such as talks and exhibitions bring attention to the cultural significance of street art, and highlight artists’ career development. Best of all, the organisation has built relationships with the community, making street art not only a new channel of artistic expression, but also a new form of public art that is accessible and engaging.
The ‘Tools of the Trade’ exhibition was held in summer 2021, and was instrumental in framing the history of street art and graffiti through the tools that artists use to create their works, dating to as far back as the late 1960s. It included special features on the acclaimed American photographer, Martha Cooper, as well as Hong Kong’s very own King of Kowloon, who started painting the streets as early as the mid-1950s.
About Jason Dembski and Maria Wong
Jason Dembski is a designer, maker and curator based in Hong Kong. His work bridges the disciplines of art and architecture. Jason directs his own design studio and is one of the co-founders of HKwalls, a non-profit art organisation that aims to create opportunities for local and international artists to showcase their talent in Hong Kong and worldwide through high-quality public art. HKwalls holds an annual street art festival in Hong Kong during Hong Kong’s art month each March, as well as year round programming that focuses on artists’ career development and raising awareness through the arts. Jason has taught at the University of Hong Kong, City University of Hong Kong, and the University of Saint Joseph in Macau, where for 3 years he led the design-build Pavilion Studio, conceiving and constructing temporary pavilions on the public waterfront in Macau.
Maria Wong is the Managing Director of HKwalls. She is also the Director of Current Projects, a creative agency that provides bespoke design and art consultancy to companies worldwide. Between 2002 and 2015, Maria was the Head of Performing Arts of the Hong Kong Youth Arts Foundation (HKYAF), a charity that provides access to high quality, non-competitive arts experiences for all young people aged 5 to 25. At HKYAF, she worked closely with corporate sponsors to produce a broad range of new work by artists locally and internationally and managed art festivals and programmes that had a strong focus on community engagement and learning & participation. In 2014-15 Maria was awarded a fellowship in the Clore Leadership Programme, a pioneering leadership development programme in the UK for the arts and cultural sector.
Jason’s and Maria’s Recommendations
Art spaces (street art):
HKWalls festival spaces
L+ (part of Lucie Chang Fine Arts)
Over the influence
Art spaces (general):
Hanart TZ Gallery
Hong Kong Museum of Art
Square Street Gallery
By Henry Chalfant and Martha Cooper
Published by Thames & Hudson Ltd, 2016
By Henry Chalfant and James Prigoff
Published by Thames & Hudson, 1987
‘Street Art Manual’
By Barney Francis and Bill Posters
Published by Orion Publishing Co, 2020
‘One Week with 1UP’
By Cooper Martha, K. Ninja and Crew 1up
Published by Publikat GmbH, 2021
‘The King of Kowloon: The Art of Tsang Tsou Choi’
By Tsang Tsou-Choi, Edited by David Spalding
Published by DAMIANI, 2014
‘Beautiful Losers’ (2008) (Graffiti Movie)