Hong Kong’s Street Art Festival Returns to its Roots – But With Some Cutting-Edge New Tools

After bringing together local and international street artists to paint the walls of Sheung Wan in 2014, HKWalls roamed around Hong Kong, adding a splash of colour to the streets of Stanley, Sham Shui Po and Wong Chuk Hang. It picked up many fans along the way, along with a bit of controversy; the 2016 edition was accused of accelerating the gentrification of working-class Sham Shui Po.

Now the festival is back where it began, with dozens of sites throughout Central and Western District. “We noticed some of the artwork was looking a bit old – it needed refreshing,” says Jason Dembski, who founded the festival with his partner Maria Wong. “It’s been five years so we thought it’s time to go back, revisit where we started and expand that a bit. Rather than just sticking to Sheung Wan we’ve pushed out to Sai Ying Pun and Central to cover more ground.”

There’s also some exciting new tools that bring the digital world into real life. Alongside the usual arsenal of spray cans, paint brushes and wheat paste, this year’s festival will also feature projection mapping, a kind of enhanced reality form of art that combines illustration with live projections. “It adds a whole new layer to the artwork and takes in the other dimensions of time and sound,” says Dembski. “A lot of street art is typically found in not so well-lit areas, but when you add this element of animation and bright colour it really extend the activity of the artwork into 24 hours.”

One of the mapping installations will come courtesy of Finu and Yunus, a pair of young artists from France and Hong Kong, respectively. “One focuses more on illustration and the other on projection,” says Dembski.

You can also expect to see work from Puerto Rico’s Alexis Diaz, who is known for his detailed animal-inspired murals; Escher-like architectural illustrations from Spain’s Cinta Vidal Agulló; and local talents including Zlism, KS and Lousy.

The action is more spread out than in previous years, with sites spanning the two kilometres from Pottinger Street in Central to Water Street in Sai Ying Pun. It’s one of the oldest parts of town, so in contrast to last year’s festival in Wong Chuk Hang, where huge industrial buildings offered ample painting surfaces, you can expect to find art in more hidden corners. “The density is much higher, the buildings are generally smaller and more compact, and everyone is trying to use every square foot for advertising or shopfronts,” says Dembski. “It makes for a lot more ground-floor artwork and a more intimate scale.”

Artists will be working daily from March 24 to April 1, and a pop-up gallery on Hollywood Road will anchor the festival. An all-day closing party on March 31 will hop between three venues, with DJs and free beer courtesy of Young Master Ales. Dembski says the festival is trying to reduce its ecological footprint, so visitors are encouraged to bring their own cups. They can also pay a deposit to borrow a reusable mug from Go Cup, an initiative by local NGO Smiley Planet to stop the tide of plastic waste that is overwhelming Hong Kong’s landfills.

Expect the closing party to be well attended. Street art has become more and more popular in Hong Kong since HKWalls was launched in 2014. “There are a lot of other organisations supporting similar artists, creating murals and more public art,” says Dembski. “We’re seeing a lot more support from the tourism board, and last year we painted our first-ever government wall. People are much more open to seeing the artwork.”

And for good reason, he adds. “It has the potential to brighten people’s days, think about things differently or even just see the space they’re in differently.”


HKWalls runs from March 24 to April 1, 2018. Click here for more information.
More to come…

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