Street art on the island
As I noted in my previous post Graffiti Wisdom Part 1, when you’ve been in Hong Kong a certain length of time, you sometimes crave a bit of grunge. When it seems the city is nothing more than a glorified shopping mall, with no more soul than a white man in a Southern Baptist choir, all that glass-fronted shininess and public service efficiency can make the darkness of a rat-infested alley look appealing. It just so happens that much of the time, it is exactly in such rat-infested alleys where the good stuff can be found.
I sometimes rant about Hong Kong being a cultural wasteland. And, if you compare it to cities such as Tokyo, New York and London, Hong Kong is certainly missing something. But Hong Kong is small. Any kind of ‘scene’ must necessarily compete, first against geography, and secondly, against the lack of much historical support for the arts as found in your more culturally attuned metropolises. When most kids spend their evenings, weekends and holidays studying for exams for the first 21 years of their life, it’s no surprise that Hong Kong’s chief cultural export is still the few golden decades of its cinematic heyday.
For the record, I’m talking about the kind of grassroots, independent art scenes that make those other cities just so damn cool. While in the bigger cities each district counts almost as an independent scene in itself, Hong Kong has a few blocks around Sheung Wan, a few galleries dotted about the place, and a few festivals sponsored by banks and beer companies. Sure, you can go to a gig at AsiaWorld Expo or get tickets for a play at the Lyric Theatre for $650. But culture shouldn’t be the exclusive right of those that can afford it.
With that in mind, the streets are the great leveler. I’m not saying graffiti is high art, but it does demonstrate that there is a scene, of sorts, existent and active in Hong Kong. Sheung Wan has seen some kind of independent art revival in the last few years, and it is around Tai Ping Shan Street and Hollywood Road that much of this stuff was gathered. None of it is particularly remarkable or says anything of note, but it keeps things interesting, and really, that’s the least that we can hope for.