Arts and culture in the period of social movements in Hong Kong – A critical photo-reportage from MA CPM Alumni
In the past four months, Hong Kong has been shaken up by the ongoing social movements, transforming drastically the life of citizens in every aspect. Political issues aside, it is indeed devastating to witness how the government is not trying to remedy the situation, but goes further to endorse the excessive force and brutality exercised by the police to shut its people’s mouth, which they thought is the solution to restoring order in society. One can easily recognise from the news coverage that the protesters are just teenagers, who were supposed to enjoy their summer vacation in beaches or shopping malls, or hanging out with friends. I was completely shattered seeing them being brutally beaten up by the armed police. Many of them were reportedly being ill treated during detention at police stations and some ended up being unconscious after got hit violently during the arrest on the street. People say – arts and culture could heal through its connection with emotions, thoughts and feelings. Yet I am powerless and skeptical about how much it can do to ameliorate the tough situation – for apparently these merciless and inhumane behaviors to the youngsters are not without support and even praise, hence show no sign of ease.
When the regime suppresses its people more, the revolt against it gets stronger. Since the movement started (as “Anti-ELAB”, Anti-extradition law amendment bill) in June, Hong Kong-ers have produced numerous art pieces to explain about the possible adverse impact the law will bring about, to encourage each other to stand against the tide and to draw attention from our counterparts in other countries. What strikes me the most is that these can be seen not only on the Internet, but also in every corner all over HK. As a member of the cultural industry, I never realise creativity could thrive so prosperously in the form of the arts in this place, where children grow up with education heavily emphasising on academic subjects, so as to survive in this international financial hub. Therefore, I would like to make use of this platform to share some of their works:
Graffiti of different images, designs, styles and texts are found everywhere. Not only does it show us how widespread the movement is, but also how arts and culture can be highly accessible and closely related to our lives.
- Image of a protestor wearing “full gear”, with helmet, goggles, full-face mask with charcoal filter affixed to absorb organic matter of tear gas, and black clothing
- Specially designed print which was spray-painted on the streets (I particularly like how the yellow colour has created a sharp contrast with the bricks, making it more outstanding)
3. expression of opinions, revolt and anger (in the form of text) towards the government
4. This is painted on the ceiling of a pedestrian tunnel, a witty contrast with the wall that is full of photographs and serious messages. The pig is a popular icon among protestors : https://www.reddit.com/r/HongKong/comments/d7ijg7/the_lihkg_piggy_is_so_adorable/.
5. Winnie the Pooh, the character which was used to mock Xi Jin Ping, was painted on the pillar situated on a main road: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/aug/07/china-bans-winnie-the-pooh-film-to-stop-comparisons-to-president-xi
Different kinds of art work, posters and banners are found to be posted on private properties.
- The image of Carrie Lam (Chief Executive of HKSAR) is placed on the floor for people to step on a bridge leading to a shopping mall
- Posters are hung over the billboards outside the train station. Creators make use of the light from the billboard to highlight the design of the poster (see the lightning)
- Large murals are created to replace the commercial advertisements
A woman, who was believed to be volunteering as first-aider at the protest, was shot in the eye by a bean bag round from the police: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/aug/16/an-eye-for-an-eye-hong-kong-protests-get-figurehead-in-woman-injured-by-police
On 2 October 2019, “an Indonesian journalist hit in the face by a rubber bullet during protests in Hong Kong has been permanently blinded in one eye”: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/oct/03/hong-kong-protests-journalist-blinded-in-one-eye-as-attacks-on-media-escalate
Posters of different styles and targeting at different issues:
– the MTR corporation (the rail monopoly) colliding with the HK Government and the Police Force (to be explained by other images below)
– Carrie Lam carrying a gun while dropping tears in an interview with an allegedly pro-Beijing television broadcaster in HK: https://www.straitstimes.com/asia/east-asia/hong-kong-broadcaster-tvb-accused-of-pro-beijing-protests-coverage
– Pencil-sketched poster saying – “I have the right to wear a mask” – after the Chief Executive Office used its emergency powers to enact the mask ban which came into effect on 5 October: https://edition.cnn.com/2019/10/04/asia/hong-kong-face-mask-ban-meeting-intl-hnk/index.html
– Lennon wall with colourful post-its showing people’s wishes, demands, encouragements and messages to fellow HK-ers, including those who have sacrificed their lives because of this movement
– To prepare for the demonstration at night, youngsters used LED lights to display their message on the streets
Outside one the busiest shopping malls in HK, people were folding paper crane (origami) which was believed to bring about peace. This place was supposed to be crowded with tourists, yet it was completely empty when the protesters and police were fighting and firing tearing gas nearby.
Works by some of my favourite illustrators in HK:
- On 2 September, the first day of school, police chased down students who were on their way to school and teachers turned a blind eye to the violence: https://www.hongkongfp.com/2019/09/03/video-student-tackled-playground-hong-kong-police-class-boycott-enters-second-day
(Image credit: TSE SAI PEI the incapable)
- An image depicting a shopper having to go through the battlefield of the police and protestors
Another busy shopping mall where you could normally find a lot of tourists from mainland China, yet on this day it was filled with HK-ers who gathered to question the management office of the shopping mall why the police was allowed to enter the private property to cause danger and unrest: https://www.scmp.com/news/hong-kong/politics/article/3018888/hongkongers-besiege-complaints-desk-sha-tins-new-town-plaza
(Left image credit: TSE SAI PEI the incapable)
- Hong Kong police targeted a mosque with a water cannon truck and members of the public assisted in cleaning up the blue dye on the building’s staircase at the entrance: https://www.hongkongfp.com/2019/10/20/hong-kong-police-accused-targeting-mosque-water-cannon-blue-dye-communities-conduct-clean/
- Freedom of speech in Hong Kong and China
Some more art work and images I found on the internet/Telegram (which was used by HK-ers to communicate during protests):
- Various industries supporting the rally against the mask ban by wearing mask at work and at school, with title saying “have you worn a mask yet?”
- Carrie Lam depicted as the puppet
- Symbolic changes throughout the four months:
- A design which resembles the exit information sign at the station – questioning whether the company is serving HK people or the government
5. Art work which accuses the MTR railway corporation of causing injuries and death rather than taking them on a safe journey (Left image credit: Fly Wings)
- On 1 October, National Day of China, when celebrations were going on in the mainland, protests in HK continued and the police shot a live round into the chest of a teenager, missing his heart by 3cm and leaving him in a critical condition:
- A female student at the university came forward and alleged sexual assault by the police during the detention: https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2019/10/11/students-emotional-allegation-sexual-assault-hong-kong-police/
8. Typography which was invented during the Umbrella Revolution in 2014 – the irregularity illustrates that HK people, perhaps more specifically for teenagers, do not have to be perfect and successful in order to contribute to society and fight for justice.
- Posters to advertise for assemblies/processions
– the protestor says: “I am willing to block the bullet for you. Would you go on the street for me?”
(Image credit: yellow_longkee)
– A statue named “Lady Liberty Hong Kong” was created with crowd-funding, and transported to the summit of Lion Rock mountain: https://www.hongkongfp.com/2019/10/13/pictures-hong-kongs-lion-rock-final-resting-place-lady-liberty-democracy-statue/
(Image credit: Lady Liberty HK)
(Right image credit: 宇宙角落)
The movement has caught attention internationally as well:
Art work by Badiucao: https://www.taiwannews.com.tw/en/news/3722459
Badiucao unmasked: the cartoonist China tried to erase: https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/badiucao-unmasked-the-cartoonist-china-tried-to-erase-8qxggrqkd
Left image: Blizzard Entertainment banned Ng Wai Chung, known as Blitzchung, from its Grandmasters esports competition for a year and withheld prize money he had already won after he used a slogan from Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement: https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2019-10-09/gamers-call-for-boycott-of-blizzard-after-hong-kong-protest-ban
The images shown above may not be of an excellent standard with high artistic value from the perspective of professional artists, yet in the midst of difficult times, they serve as a powerful tool to unite people and help to advocate for their propositions. The variety in terms of medium, style, or usage of brushstroke, has displayed the existence and significance of that space to accommodate diversity in developing the arts and cultural industries. As a stakeholder of society, I believe it is also important to record the happenings when we still have the freedom of expression through the arts. While it may not seem to be useful to stop the violence at this moment unfortunately – I do hope that it at least helps to call for international attention to the abuse of force and human rights in HK. Lastly, I would like to share the ‘anthem’ composed and produced by youngsters in HK for the social movement:《願榮光歸香港Glory to Hong Kong》https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ULFVjUwRepE (English subtitles available). Again, it probably does not appeal to those who are professionally trained musicians…but it has undeniably struck many HK-ers’ hearts with its lyrics and revolutionary and realistic setting, which has made it now being sung everywhere to boost the morale. May the arts and culture carry on its role amid instability and uncertainty, and God bless Hong Kong.
(Image credits to all artists named in the text above, as well as all anonymous artists and musicians whose work are found and circulated on Facebook and Telegram)
Anonymous MA CPM student reporting from HK