The Hong Kong cityscape and junkboat at twilight (Photo: iStock
While Hong Kong is more widely known as a global business hub – a city filled with skyscrapers and angular architecture – the local art scene is just as prominent, with street art becoming one of the city’s most defining features.
“While the concept of street art from a global perspective is a relatively new phenomenon, Hong Kong street art has existed in many forms for generations,” says Stuart Carly, Cathay Pacific Loyal Diamond member and regular visitor to Hong Kong.
“From the sea of bright lights and neon shop signs that is synonymous with Hong Kong, to the graffiti and art installations found in back alleys of the city, there are plenty of places to visit to catch a glimpse of art that interests you.”
From his many visits to Hong Kong and his ever-growing love of urban art, Carly shares some advice for first-time travellers hoping to gain insight into the city’s burgeoning street art scene.
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1. Take a one-hour street art walking tour
Graffiti and ‘street art’ are considered artwork created in a public space, typically without official permission – this definition is what gives this particular art form its cheeky allure. For those who want to get behind the scenes and understand the meaning behind various street art pieces around Soho and Central in particular, a guided walking tour is the ideal way to do it.
“Here today and gone tomorrow, street art is quite literally the ‘Houdini’ of all art forms,” says Carly. “Most people are also completely unaware that a lot of the street-side murals and artworks lining the alleys and buildings of Hong Kong’s ‘shabbier’ urban districts were actually created by world famous artists. This is why there’s so much value in walking the streets and exploring even the overlooked and seemingly mundane aspects of the city.”
2. Appreciate the vibrant art of shop signage
Neon signage is a fascinating part of the city’s heritage, particularly because it shows how everyday necessity and utility can be just as beautiful as any other traditional art form. Like Shanghai and Tokyo, Hong Kong was an early adaptor of the technology that neon offered, with neon signs appearing in Hong Kong as early as the 1920s. Since then, neon signs have lit up the streets of Hong Kong by day and night, letting people know that it’s open for business.
“While Nathan Road is probably the most famous strip of neon-saturated activity in Hong Kong, it’s the quieter neighbourhoods like Sai Ying Pun that offer the opportunity to really immerse oneself in a sea of neon on a smaller scale,” says Carly.
3. Enjoy the theatre of the street in Kowloon
For Carly, no visit to the vibrant city is complete without a long walk through the back streets of Kowloon, taking in the sights and sounds as he goes. With a variety of fascinating museums and art galleries to visit, Kowloon is already a prime destination for art lovers, but the energetic nature of the streets is decidedly “where it’s at”.
“It is the back lanes of traditional neighbourhoods where visitors can really appreciate Hong Kong’s unique charm and urban pulse,” he says. “The melange of the modern and traditional is a captivating experience on its own, and these neighbourhood visits – whether in Kowloon or even around Kong island – have been the cornerstones of some of my best memories,” adds Carly.
4. Don’t rule out the art galleries
Today’s art galleries are a far cry from the elite and isolated ones of the past, as Hong Kong makes room and shows its appreciation for a more diverse range of art forms. This phenomenon has seen them invite the vibrancy and culture of street art through its doors, paying homage to urban art and the important role it plays in contributing to Hong Kong’s overall art scene.
“Above Second Gallery in particular, and Sai Ying Pun in general, present an updated view of life in Hong Kong. I’ve noticed that my interest in graffiti and other contemporary forms of Asian art continues to blossom. Growing up in this city and making regular professional trips to the city over the years probably played a big role in this, but it’s the effect Hong Kong has on people. It’s a unique destination that really wins your heart every time you visit.”
Hong Kong’s art scene is developing at an incredibly rapid pace, which only adds to the city’s many attractive offerings, giving locals and visitors alike the chance to explore and experience spaces that speak to their own unique tastes and interests.
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