All the city's a canvas as taggers have their spray

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 01 February, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 01 February, 2009, 12:00am

Illegal graffiti appears to be on the rise, despite crackdowns

Judging by some of the facades of our beautiful city, spray-painted graffiti is on the rise.

While the police do not keep numbers on graffiti incidents, the Sunday Morning Post has spotted many prohibited markings - or 'tags' in the lingua franca of graffiti - throughout Hong Kong Island.

Numerous illegal taggings were seen in various urban spots - from a Mid-Levels underpass to a Lok Hing Lane sitting-out area in Central and the rooftop of the old Government Supplies Department building in North Point.

Police crackdowns on the practice have reportedly caused lawbreakers to spray-paint in Shenzhen, where enforcement against vandalism is thought to be more lax.

Nevertheless, fresh graffiti is appearing in Hong Kong.

Stephen Chan Chit-kwai, vice-chairman of Central and Western District Council, said there had been complaints about graffiti in the past, but no objections had been voiced as of late.

Still, Mr Chan has seen new examples of graffiti appear recently in his district. He said the problem should be investigated and the people responsible punished. 'They put these things in public areas. It's no good,' he said.

It is not completely clear why graffiti is showing up on more Hong Kong Island facades, but lawmaker James To Kun-sun said the internet was propelling the trend.

Certain Web users 'spread the philosophy, the methodology, the actual way of how to implement [it] - how to paint, in what hours, how to avoid detection', Mr To said.

His solution was to strike a balance, hoping the government would designate public graffiti areas so artists could express themselves.

If the artists chose to deface private property or venture outside those special graffiti zones, then they should face prosecution, Mr To said.

Already, the Warehouse Teenage Club and the YMCA of Hong Kong in Tsim Sha Tsui provide legal venues for graffiti artists.

Many young people, rich and poor alike, take to graffiti as a way to express themselves or announce their presence, websites say.

From Pompeii walls to New York streets, graffiti has been around for centuries, and has few geographical limitations.

One local artist did not think there had been a spike in the amount of illegal scribbling in Hong Kong; people were just finally seeing what had always been there, he said.

'You've noticed because it is a current trend. It has newsworthiness now that it did not have a year ago,' said the artist known as *COM, who is a founding member of ST/ART, an artists' collective and an initiative of local creative studio China Stylus.

'There is no more or less work on the streets now than there was 12 months ago,' *COM wrote in an e-mail. 'The work is a constant, the attention comes and goes.'

One area in Hong Kong where graffiti has not experienced a recent rise is public housing structures. A Housing Authority spokeswoman said via e-mail that 'such misdeeds are so far minimal in our housing estates'.

A police public relations bureau duty officer reminded the public that a person 'may commit an offence by drawing graffiti in a public place'.

'There is no single provision governing the act of painting of graffiti. Each case would be judged on its own merits according to the situation and evidence collected,' the officer wrote in an e-mail.

Criminal damage cases with a motive of vandalism have declined over the past few years, according to police statistics. There were 1,182 reported cases in 2003, compared with 826 cases last year.