HONG KONG STREET ART
The observant eye may have noticed a curious new addition upon the streets of Hong Kong lately. To the delight of art aficionados, Hong Kong is the scene of the latest 'invasion' by the French graffiti mosaic artist known simply as 'Invader', who has conducted similar illicit street art projects in over 40 cities on 6 continents. The installment features 48 of the artist's signature whimsical tile mosaics of characters from the retro Space Invaders arcade game, which have popped up in unexpected corners throughout the city. The works are spread throughout Hong Kong Island, Kowloon, and New Territories.
This is not the artist's first visit to the fair harbor city, as Invader graced Hong Kong with at least 19 of his mosaic works in 2001– some of which still remain in place 13 years later. However, the new installations are larger and often more intricate; it seems Hong Kong is bestowed with some of the most ambitious works the artist has ever illicitly installed in any urban location.
An important element of Invader's work is its illicit nature– meaning it is done without permission– so the piece is a surprise for all. However, lacking permission to modify a property technically qualifies this practice as illegal in Hong Kong, and indeed the artist did have a run-in with the Hong Kong police while installing a work upon Hollywood Road in Central. The artist recounted his experience to the South China Morning Post of being approached by a half dozen police officers, saying:
"I was frightened about what might happen.. So I told them, 'I am an artist and I did not ask for permission, but what I am giving is a gift. If you don't like it, you can take it off'. The police looked at my piece and said, 'No, we like it, you can keep it'... But they said don't put any up any more, so I went to Kowloon to continue."
Invader's experience brings to mind comparisons with another French graffiti artist, Zevs, who created an illicit work upon Central's prominent Armani Building in 2009. Zevs, however, was immediately arrested and detained in Hong Kong for the act, and was granted a suspended sentence only after the French Culture and Communication Minister wrote a letter requesting leniency on the artist's behalf.
Meanwhile, Invader's illicit mosaics have insofar escaped legal concern, and are seemingly not construed as offensive or particularly damaging to property. While it may require a concerted effort to remove the artwork, their presence currently appears to be appreciated by amused onlookers. While graffiti may be illegal in Hong Kong, clearly the content and sensitivity of the location of a street art work determines its treatment in Hong Kong.
Invader's 2014 inundation of Hong Kong differs in some interesting ways from recent projects in Europe and the United States– specifically, the artist hasn't installed any works that can be accessed from the street level in awhile, probably due to their tendency of being stolen by savvy Western art collectors. However, Hong Kong is different, as awareness of street art practice amongst established artists is sorely lacking. Although Invader's works would likely be pilfered if the public (and property owners) understood their monetary value, a level of sophistication when it comes to understanding the intrinsic value and cultural capital of street art simply doesn't exist here– yet. However, with artists like Invader bombing the town with works that could fetch up to HK$3 million at auction (US$387,000) it is only a matter of time before the ever-practical and money-minded Hong Kong public tunes in. With the wave of arts related infrastructure set to increase in Hong Kong, perhaps tolerance of thoughtful, well-executed street art is a new trend to watch in China's most dynamic autonomous city-state.
All photos were taken by the author, © Erin Wooters Yip, 2014. Please direct usage permission requests to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Space Invader works disappearing in Hong Kong - February 2014
Hong Kong: And You Call Yourself an Art Hub... - March 2014