Hong Kong street art: how Wan Chai is being transformed as graffiti gains acceptance

Lauren James:

WWalls sprayed with slogans, stencils and scenes don’t just affect the aesthetic value of a city – they can also inspire cultural shifts.

Just as the original “Lennon Wall” sprang up in Prague in the 1980s, as citizens behind the iron curtain voiced their dissent through art, Hong Kong now has its own walls covered, in messages of support for the extra­dition bill protests. And similar to the Hong Kong streets and plazas taken over by neon Post-it notes, the Czech Lennon Wall is periodically destroyed and recreated, to symbolise uprisings – in both the creative and political spheres.

This year’s street art and mural festival organised by HKwalls did not delve into politics speci­fically, yet the works adorning walls in Wan Chai are redolent of a city that is becoming comfortable expressing its values through visual public media.

“[Street art] makes people more aware of the space they’re in. They stop and take notice,” says Jason Dembski, the American architect and designer who founded the non-profit HKwalls with Hongkongers Stan Wu and Maria Wong in 2014. “The Lennon Walls are about communicating thoughts and ideas and sharing them with the wider public, which is what a lot of street art is about.”