Culture & Leisure

Law wipes out graffiti ‘invaders'

The removal of a French graffiti artist's work has added fuel to the old "art versus vandalism" row centreing on the controversial form of art.

No one is bothered to take a glance at King's Road's bare cement wall, which was internationally eye-riveting merely two months ago – it used to be covered with the arcade-game-inspired graffiti mosaic work installed over the Lunar New Year holiday by renowned French street artist known as "Invader".

The Hong Kong Highways Department in February ordered to wipe off every tile of the work, along with several other ones the artist unexpectedly left on streets as what he calls "gifts" for Hong Kong and its citizens during his third visit to the city.

The government's decision, which is in observance of Hong Kong law, has unleashed an outcry from a bear pit of art lovers while art professionals call for mutual respect between artists and property owners.

Hong Kong law considers artwork installed on private properties vandalism, which means most of the city's graffiti is illegal. Invader's graffiti followed the fate of much of the late "King of Kowloon" Tsang Tsou-choi's calligraphy left in public places, which was constantly removed by the government in the 2000s.

Senior Lecturer at the Hong Kong Art School Olive Leung Ching-man slams the removal.

"The government is immature when dealing with artwork that is controversial," he said. "It tries to simplify the issue instead of taking the time to find a plausible solution."

But Connie Lam Suk-yee, Executive Director of Hong Kong Arts Centre, argues street artists should not assume they are entitled to everything in the name of art.

"Art is not a privilege. You should not do as you please and call it art," said Ms Lam.

"Otherwise, art would be hegemonic."

She said it was difficult to strike a balance between protecting street artists' artistic properties and the rights of property owners, but mutual respect was vital.

PANTONE C, a local urban artist who prefers to be referred to by his alias, thinks the removal of Invader's artwork is a shame but points to the difficulty of judging the value of street artwork.

"Should art pieces drawn by famous artists be the only ones worth retaining? There is no clear guideline," he said.

While Hong Kong sees graffiti as outright vandalism, Australians have installed transparent screens to protect some graffiti works on the wall along iconic street art laneway Hosier Lane in Melbourne.

In Taiwan, although street art on private properties is also illegal, the law specifies that unless property owners file a complaint, law enforcing bodies are not to intervene.

PANTONE C thinks the more urban spaces available in some foreign countries compared with Hong Kong and better education in art are what have made people in those countries more open-minded towards different forms of art.

Cultural differences had also contributed to the polarizing attitudes towards graffiti, he said.

"Hong Kong people abide by rules. Graffiti is illegal, and people tend to think it produces a negative image. So we are less accepting of it."

"Most Hongkongers are also too busy to enjoy art," he added.

Ms Lam has suggested the government provide more wholesome art education to help people come out of their rigid shells.

"The atmosphere in Hong Kong is too academic. Most young people do not choose to study art because they cannot see a good outlook on this subject," she said.

PANTONE C, now an art teacher, says art should not be confined to certain forms.

"Art is limitless," he said.

Reported by Shirley Chan

Edited by Liu Ching

《The Young Reporter》

The Young Reporter (TYR) is an English news publication produced by international journalism students at Hong Kong Baptist University. It started as a printed magazine in 1969. Today, TYR is produced across different platforms.

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