Arts + Culture
HKwalls brings street art, a.k.a. murals, to the streets, alleys, security gates, and walls of Sham Shui Po, a gritty working class neighborhood in Kowloon. Is the Po Hong Kong's next hot neighborhood?
HKwalls is an annual festival of street art in Hong Kong. It takes places during Hong Kong Art Week, which is held in March or April each year.
Under the HKwalls initiative, artists create murals on the walls of buildings and on security gates in a designated district.
What sets the HKwalls initiative apart from graffiti is that it is not a form of visual vandalism. The artists get the permission of building owners to create murals on their buildings.
The first HKwalls initiative was held in 2014 in Sheung Wan on Hong Kong Island, a district which has long played host to antique shops and second-hand stores
A growing number of art galleries, independent cafes, coffee houses, and boutiques have been populating the neighbourhood in recent years as it gentrifies.
The walls of run-down buildings lining the streets, alleys, and stairways in the district provided the perfect canvas for avant-garde street art.
The following year, the project grew in scope. While more murals were created in Sheung Wan, HKwalls expanded to Stanley Market on the South side of Hong Kong island.
The once sleepy fishing village has a popular beach, a couple of temples, and a market selling souvenirs, copy watches, cheap clothes, furniture, paintings, and home furnishings. It is has long been popular with visiting tourists.
A reconstructed military barracks that houses a collection of food and beverage outlets and a waterfront promenade, which is lined with yet more food and beverage outlets, also draw crowds after work and on weekends.
Sham Shui Po
HKwalls moved across Victoria Harbour to Kowloon’s Sham Shui Po district for Art Week 2016.
One of Hong Kong’s oldest neighbourhoods, Sham Shui Po is a crowded working class district full of run-down tenements and crowded public housing estates.
Shops lining the streets of Sham Shui Po sell everything from fabrics to electronics equipment to computer supplies. There are numerous street markets and two large shopping malls: Golden Centre and Dragon Centre.
The district got a creative shot in the arm a few years back when the highly regarded Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD) took over an important heritage site, a former magistracy, and turned it into a campus.
US-based SCAD offers art and design degrees in more than 40 areas of study, as well as minors in more than 60 disciplines.
Because of the district’s relatively low rents, a growing number of ambitious entrepreneurs are setting up shop in the Po, and the focus is clearly on creativity.
Traditional shops and cafes that have been in business for decades continue to dominate the scene. Entrepreneurs with creative ideas, however, are occupying the spaces that become available as the older generation retires.
Coffee houses, leather goods stores, bakeries, a soap factory, and a concept store are among the retail businesses that have opened in the neighborhood over the last couple of years.
Building owners in Sham Shi Po proved a bit more reluctant to lend their walls to creative expression than their counterparts on the other side of the harbour.
Exploring the district in search of the murals created during Hong Kong Art Week was a bit like a treasure hunt. They were scattered about hither and yonder.
I hadn't brought a list of addresses, just the names of some of the streets on which the murals were located: Cheong Sha Wan Road, Lai Chi Kok Road, Nam Cheong Street, Wong Chuk Street, Shek Kip Mei Street, and Tai Nan Street.
I never knew for sure when one would show up. But show up they did – gems hidden in back alleys and on security gates, which revealed themselves as shop owners closed their shops for the night.
Look over my shoulder as Helen Wong and I explore Shan Shui Po in search of the street art left behind during Hong Kong Art Week.
Click here for a map and a list of mural addresses: HKwalls.org.
Click here for a map of Sham Shui Po and a list of mural addresses: HKwalls.org.
Some of the best murals were painted on security gates, which means they are only visible after businesses close. My advice is to loop through the neighborhood twice: once in late afternoon and again after dark.
That way you can check out the shops and also check out the murals. In between, you can have dinner at one of the many cafes and dai pai dongs that dot the neighborhood.
Nearest MTR stations: Sham Shui Po and Prince Edward Road.