Rare 'King of Kowloon' graffiti painted over

PUBLISHED : Monday, 16 November, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 16 November, 2009, 12:00am

One of the few remaining works of graffiti by the late 'King of Kowloon' - art the government had pledged to preserve - was recently covered by neatly applied grey paint.

The Highways Department, which was responsible for maintenance of a retaining wall in Kwun Tong, admitted that it painted over four other graffiti works on the wall during recent routine maintenance, but denied the department applied the paint covering Tsang Tsou-choi's iconic street calligraphy.

All the new paint appeared to be the same colour and was applied with similar strokes. The graffiti was painted on a retaining wall in Lei Yue Mun Road, opposite the Kwun Tong police station.

Artist Joel Chung Yin-chai, who was a friend of Tsang, said the government painted over the graffiti a few years ago but the paint had worn away, revealing the calligraphy.

Chung said that the work was still intact in July, albeit a little blurry. But when Chung went back last month, Tsang's graffiti, together with other graffiti on the wall, had been covered with grey paint.

'There's nothing that can be done now,' Chung said. 'We can only wait for this new layer of paint to erode so that Tsang's work can be seen again. The kind of paint that Tsang used, in fact, lasts longer than that used by the Highways Department.'

The Home Affairs Bureau, which pledged to preserve Tsang's remaining works shortly after his death in 2007, said it had asked departments to remind contractors and works agents not to whitewash or destroy Tsang's works so they could be kept intact as far as possible.

The bureau's spokesman said the Highways Department was responsible for maintenance work on the Kwun Tong retaining wall. The department insisted it was aware of Tsang's works and regularly reminded its staff and government contractors not to remove the graffiti.

'We have not issued any instructions to carry out the painting works at that location,' a department spokesman said.

But the department said its contractor did a routine maintenance inspection and work on the retaining wall between October 7 and 22. '[The contractor] painted over four graffiti works by others on the retaining wall,' a spokesman said. 'However, they have left the late Mr Tsang's graffiti on that retaining wall intact and have not painted over it. There is no evidence of who actually painted over the late Mr Tsang's graffiti.'

Tsang's friends accused the Home Affairs Bureau of paying lip service to its preservation pledge.

'This is typical [of the] government's style - telling a lie to cover up another lie - and the Highways Department's answer was just stupid,' Chung said. The paint job on Tsang's graffiti was obviously the Highways Department's work, he said.

'It clearly shows that there is no communication between departments and no clear directions given to contractors, who are supposed to educate the workers about Tsang's works and not paint over them.'

Tsang's long-time friend Lau Kin-wai said the Home Affairs Bureau should be blamed.

'I have taken photos of the six best remaining sites and personally handed the records as well as my suggestions on how to preserve these sites to [undersecretary for home affairs] Florence Hui Hiu-fai, but they didn't care,' Lau said.

'They said people still have different opinions over the value of Tsang's work.'

An acrylic calligraphy on canvas work by Tsang sold for HK$500,000 at Sotheby's contemporary Asian art sale in October, far more than the highest pre-sale estimate of HK$70,000.