Beyond the Wall
Tatler Hong Kong|May 2021
As the fifth edition of the HKwalls street art and mural festival goes ahead this month, four Hong Kong artists discuss what inspires their work
Zabrina Lo

When Jason Dembski moved to Hong Kong to start a new job in 2009, what captivated him about the city was less its buildings and more the street art scattered on its walls. He began taking photos to document what he saw, as he felt graffiti was underappreciated by wider society.

“Back then, there weren’t a lot of sanctioned or legal murals. Not a lot of galleries or art fairs here were ready for street art,” says Dembski, an architect originally from the US, who co-founded the non-profit HKwalls in 2014. “Lots of artists were creating illegal work on the streets and going to abandoned buildings, such as ATV [a former television studios] in Sai Kung, to paint bigger artworks without being bothered by police.”

From prehistoric cave etchings to gang tags on New York City train cars, the need to leave an identifying mark as a message to others is a trait as old as the human race. Graffiti and street art spread from American culture to Hong Kong in the 2000s through media such as magazines, movies and MTV.

Seven years since its inception, the city’s largest annual street art festival returns this month with an exhibition at Soho House to introduce a pilot youth mentorship programme that will cultivate young artists while showing street art to the public through the many murals. Here, four artists share why they go to the wall for Hong Kong street art.

BAO HO

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