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Multimedia Story: Graffiti in Hong Kong

By Tiffany Choi, Pamela Lin, Julianna Wu, Fatih Isik and Quency Li

Epic but cliché face-off : Is graffiti vandalism or art?

by Tiffany Choi

A random pair of glasses on the ground of a museum, a TV playing old movies, a colourful dress on a granny could… they can all be art depending on how you define “art”. But on the city level – graffiti is more than all these – pretty much “colourful” disputes.


You can do graffiti but not freely

In 2011, the government appointed “Energizing Kowloon East Office” to beautify Kwun Tong with graffiti and street art as to turn this old area in Kowloon into an energetic business area. The Art Promotion Office invited artists to paint external walls of back alleys in the area

But encouraging street art doesn’t mean that graffiti artists can paint anywhere they want. In 2014, The Highways Department made a statement that all the unauthorised materials or graffiti on public facilities are “unlawful” and would be removed.

Graffiti artists doing unauthorised graffiti can be charged of “nuisances and miscellaneous offence”. Convicted will be fined HK$500 or jailed up to three months.


Those convicted could pay a fine of HK$500 or face three months’ imprisonment.


Private facilities can do – but not really

Some private facilities or places are enthusiastic about bringing street art to their place. But not every shareholder would agree. A famous graffiti artist from France, CEET, knows the best of it.

CEET was invited to perform art painting during the opening reception and exhibition for ARTYZE Street, an art gallery in Hong Kong’s Sheung Wan district, some neighboring residents in the building called the police. Despite permission, CEET was forced to stop.


Street art is not new to Hong Kong
Hong Kong resident Tsang Tsou-choi(1921-2007) believed himself as the owner of Kowloon district in Hong Kong, claiming that most of the land of Kowloon belonged to his ancestors.

From the 1950s, Tsang started to do Chinese calligraphy with ink on different public facilities in Hong Kong, such as concrete walls, post boxes.

Tsang was never a stranger to police. When he was still alive, Tsang was arrested and fined for many times.

Not until he died in 2007 at the age of 85 have his works started to be considered as arts by the government.

Though part of the Tsang’s work had been removed when he was still alive, the government promised, after Tsang’s death, they wouldn’t remove the remaining works and would consider possible preservations.

Fun fact I – Who started modern graffiti
Darryl McCray, born in 1953 in Philadelphia, is believed to be the first modern graffiti artist. During the 1960s, Darryl and his friends started “tagging” Philadelphia by drawing their nicknames on walls. For Darryl, his nickname is “Cornbread”. The group raised the movement to New York City and could no longer be stopped.

Fun fact II – Three types of graffiti

(A) Tag
Nothing is more interesting than spraying your own name on a wall. But when a graffiti artist does it, the font has to be stylish enough to speak for his or her personalities.  

(B) Bombing
Like “tag”, bombing involves words as well. But bombing is usually larger in scale and it has a lot of background to tell a picture.  

(C) Piece
Simply cool painting on a wall.

Conflict – Graffiti Removal Issue

by Quency Li

Hong Kong has always been criticized as a “cultural desert” in terms of the graffiti works, compared with the little allies in New York, Melbourne where are covered with cool graffiti. Noticed or not, the limited number of graffiti in Hong Kong are also disappearing quietly.

There was a very famous graffiti wall in Kwun Tong. People call it the wall that only local Hong Kong people would understand. All the words there is typical Hong Kong style Cantonese words. Like “揾食”, which means looking for a job. And “戶口沒錢,努力工作” means “Broke, work hard”. Most of the words are talking about the struggles of young people.

It soon became one of the most popular photography places in Hong Kong earlier this year. Thousands of young people went there and took pictures with it and post on social media.

However, this Hong Kong trendy words graffiti was removed in June. According to the security guard in the building which the wall belongs to, the building is doing the outside decoration so they have to remove the graffiti.

Not only the wall owners, the government in Hong Kong did not show any support to the graffiti art. In Hong Kong, drawing graffiti on the public wall could be arrested.

In 2014, the government removed 35 little-tiled graffiti of video game characters such as Bruce Lee and Hong Kong Phooey on public walls Space created by Space Invader, a famous French Street artist. The reason behind, according to the government, is because the public walls are not the public area.

“The issue is a vexed one for any city. Street art, graffiti, culture, vandalism: part of the issue is the terms of engagement one chooses to use. It might seem heavy-handed of the government to just tear works down, but it raises some tricky questions: if we’re asking when graffiti becomes street art, then we’re effectively asking what art is” South China Morning Post said.

Would there be one day we can see those cool graffiti come back?

CEET Drawing a Chicken

by Fatih Isik

When Permit Doesn’t Work, Police!

by Fatih Isik


CEET aka Fouad Ceet, a French graffiti and street artist, has been living in China for more than 30 years and is currently based between Shenzhen and Hong Kong. His vibrant graffiti art draws attention and is well-known on the scene. After working with galleries, designers and advertising agencies for his entire art life, CEET takes most of the pride out of his chicken series, “Los Chicanos”, telling different stories of chicken.

JMSC News followed CEET for some hours in November 2017, intended to film him painting on a wall in Sheung Wan for the opening reception and exhibition for ARTYZE Street, an art gallery in Sheung Wan.


However, before even getting started with the spraying, Hong Kong police officers, that were called by neighboring residents, arrived on the scene and prohibited to continue with the performance despite having a permit obtained by the art gallery.

“I’m not harassing anyone and don’t really understand why the police is so aggressive,” says CEET after being interrupted by the officers and asked to show his ID. The Shenzhen-based artist was invited by the art gallery to embellish the walls of Sheung Wan.

“The residents said they were not notified in advance,” he added.

Owner of a neighboring ham shop Reserva Ibérica, Manuel López, witnessed how CEET was approached by the police.

“I cannot understand why complaining residents are not happy with what CEET was trying to do because the previous painting on the wall was quite unpleasant,” López said.

“You can use my wall in the sidewalk for your art if you want,” he added.

Thomas is from France and transposes his personal vision of his environment on canvas. He strives to propose an abstract and duplicate version to the disorganized entanglement of his urban life. On one hand, the city is divided into sections of walls or blue prints, on the other, humanity has its individuality.

For his painting, he draws his inspiration from his memories and his meetings with the city and its inhabitants. He then adds to it his own style, with the greatest accuracy and attention to detail. From walls covered with graffiti and posters to the surreal architectures of his futuristic cities, the artist is all about detail.

The Hottest Graffiti of the City

by Pamela Lin

Getting out of the Central Station, strolling towards SOHO district, you will encounter a popular mural spot on Graham Street. Tourists streamed in and out for stunning photos.

This wall was owned by a Hong Kong local lifestyle brand called “Goods for Desire”. The mural depicts an aerial photography of Kowloon Walled City which was a largely-ungoverned densely-populated settlement in Kowloon City in Hong Kong.

The Kowloon Walled city was demolished between 1992 and 1994. The artist used various colors to document the townhouses of Kowloon Walled City.

However, the busy “mural street” brings the local drivers some troubles. When the drivers of trucks and automobiles turn to Graham Street from Hollywood Street, they need to speed up to travel through the slope in order to get in the Graham Street. The huge crowds of tourists stuck on the slope disturb the drivers and increase the risk of accidents.

Wong Chuk Hang as a Raising Star of Graffiti

by Julianna Wu

At the first glance, Wong Chuk Hang looks just like a normal industrial district of Hong Kong: locates far from busy downtown, no tourists, no shopping mall, just the noise of big vans and trucks. Except that when walking out of the MTR station of Wong Chuk Hang, one would hardly ignore the big billboard and walls with comics painted on.

As the pace of urban gentrification moves forward, Wong Chuk Hang has been turned into an art district where vivid representatives of local street art meet with garages, factories, and warehouses.

Starting from the 1960s, Wong Chuk Hang used to enjoy its glory time as one of the major manufacture districts of the city. After the 1990s, when Hong Kong’s identity as a global financial center begun to raise, most companies shifted to mainland China for cheaper rent and labor, left Wong Chuk Hang behind as a south-island area that was lack of attractions. Even the move-in of the Ocean Park, one of the must-visit places of Hong Kong, couldn’t bring in more people to the district.

In 2016, the accomplishment of the South-island line made Wong Chuk Hang much more easily-accessed than before. Together with its neighbor Aberdeen district, Wong Chuk Hang became part of the government’s plan of making the south-island shine again.

New hotels, apartments, and offices gradually showed up in the streets, many businesses, for the sake of cheaper rent compared to some hot office locations like Central, Wan Chai and Admiralty, moved to the district. Many artists, under the encouragement of the government, moved their studios into the big industrial building rooms of Wong Chuk Hang that were originally made for massive manufacture and storage.

As the MTR opened up, HKWALLS, a local organization focusing on graffiti and street arts, held its annual graffiti festival at Wong Chuk Hang. Artists around the world were invited to take out the walls here and make then colorful.

Now, Wong Chuk Hang has become a name card of Hong Kong’s art, with abundant art studios, galleries, restaurants, and graffiti. It has become a place where old mills meet with modern offices, heavy trucks meet with luxurious cars, Cantonese tea restaurants meet with foreign dining bars, where garbage collectors meet with white-collars with suitcases, local factory workers meet with local chic artists, newly drawn graffiti meet with abandoned walls.

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Smilemaker Makes you Smile – Q&A with Local Street Art Artists

by Pamela Lin and Julianna Wu

Q: Could you please briefly introduce us who is Smile Maker HK?

A: It was founded in 2013 by me and the other artist. We two are quite interested in graffiti and street art. And that’s why we started it. Our purpose is to let more people get to know the street culture. For me, I have been doing street art for 14 years. We would like to show the positive and colorful art creations to more people. Most topics of our works are designed by ourselves. The topics are related to our daily life.

Q: What’s your famous work?

A: I think it could be the poster of Pokfulam Village. This work represents our style. We like characters from Chinese old comic books. Like this one, it shows the character sitting on the cow reversely. We want to express the old comic in a new-school way. The character represents my partner and me got into the village with a pen in hand trying to draw something. We also want to show a feeling of being in the rural area, that’s why we drew a chick leaning on the cow. There are suburban areas in Pokfulam Village as well. We want the public to have an idea how’s the Pokfulam Village like. We put in lots of massage in our work, but actually, some are hidden messages. We hope the public could interpret themselves.

Q: Do you have any experience that your work was removed? If so, why?

A: Definitely yes. Sometimes the building would be renovated, then our painting on the wall would be removed. There’s also one time that I help my friend to paint outside a house in Lamma Island, while the wall outside the building became klunky, and our graffiti has to be removed.

Q: Are there any removed works are related to illegal issues?

A: For us, not really. Because we usually paint after we get approval by the building owner or the government.

Q: What’s the biggest challenge of doing graffiti and street art in Hong Kong?

A: I think the biggest challenge is the atmosphere. It lacks the atmosphere of playing graffiti in Hong Kong. I mean the public’s level of acceptance is a bit low. They don’t really care about graffiti and street art. However, in Taiwan, people won’t just regard these paintings as graffiti, they will regard them as a work of an artist. They will try to interpret and admire it.

Q: What does the street art mean to Hong Kong?

A: People in Hong Kong are very busy moving from one place to the other. But we want them to slow down, to look and to think for a while when seeing the street art.

Q: What’s the future plan of Smile Maker HK?

A: In future, we will develop new media platform to express ourselves through artwork instead of only doing graffiti or street art.

HKwalls is a non-profit arts organization that aims to create opportunities for local and international artists to showcase their talent in Hong Kong internationally through the medium of street art and street culture. Every year during March, the art month, HKwalls will hold an annual street art festival in Hong Kong. This year in 2017, there are 38 artists painted over 30 murals. HKwalls moved to the industrial district, Wong Chuk Hang.
In 2017 and will continued their mission to create public art spaces all over Hong Kong.

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