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Graffiti Wisdom Part 1: Sheung Wan

Vacuous Vandalism or Poetic Profundity?

The friable fake will fall

The friable fake will fall, oh yes they will. And like tall trees too. Which I guess means from a great height and rather heavily. Not only that, but just so you know, what we do echos [sic] in now. So … erm … just do it.

No, these aren’t lines from The Wasteland or extracts from Nietzsche’s notebooks (though you’d be forgiven for thinking so), but the result of a Saturday afternoon spent walking round Sheung Wan, scouring the backstreets for the wisdom seen herein.

In a city in which the display outside Times Square is regarded as an artistic ‘happening’, where cultural events are only deemed as such if they are sponsored by Standard Chartered or ‘brought to you’ by American Express, it can sometimes seem that Hong Kong has become a wasteland itself – a creative barrenness in which anything genuinely interesting is left to struggle in obscurity while the celebration of the bland goes on regardless.

Hong Kong’s less shiny side

It’s enough to leave you craving the grit and the grime – the dirt beneath the glossy surface that lets you know a city has a soul. It’s not that Hong Kong doesn’t have a less shiny side, you just need to know where to look.

Scrawled on walls that no one sees, this poetry in paint is, let’s face it, rarely as sublime as it thinks it is. It’s more teenaged angst than Tennyson, a little less profound than Proust. But at least it’s honest. It isn’t trying to sell you credit packaged as an art festival.

I tend to think of it as the urban equivalent of those adolescent ramblings that really shouldn’t leave the confines of the diary in which they’re written – as if some 17 year-old bedroom-dweller believes the nonsense he’s just scribbled is actually some mighty truth which, like Zarathustra emerging from his cave, he must disseminate in spray paint to the ignorant and blind.

Hence why the following day such wisdom as ‘time is a concept’ or ‘capitalism will eat itself’ can be seen being hosed off walls around the city by a bunch of bored looking sanitation workers. Even if most of what is written has the literary power of a spud gun, it’s the independent self-expression that counts. Mark Twain it is not. But it keeps a city interesting.

So here it is, the first batch of ten – each in its own way profound; each, when it comes down to it, entirely meaningless. Though taken as a whole and read in sequence, there’s definitely a poem of sorts there somewhere. Enjoy!

Related Posts: For more examples from Hong Kong’s graffitied underworld click tag: graffiti

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