Misguided protest needs to be stopped

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 05 December, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 05 December, 2009, 12:00am

Each man kills the thing he loves. And so, since last weekend, Joel Chung Yin-chai, an artist and long-time advocate of his late friend Tsang Tsou-choi's street calligraphy, has gone on a rampage. He has painted over, removed or defaced at least five of Tsang's last remaining graffiti as an act of protest - against the government for not doing more to preserve them. His misguided action may well help raise public awareness, but the damage he has caused is irreversible. This is perverse logic. Chung needs to be stopped before it's too late.

Few other people have done as much as Chung to call attention to the importance of Tsang's work as authentic local art. He has published two books on the subject and once helped to auction a piece by his friend, better known as the 'King of Kowloon'. The graffiti Tsang painted, over decades, were the work of an unbalanced and obsessed mind. His intention was to lay claims on land and property in Kowloon, not to produce art. But somehow, they have become iconic and an ingrained part of local culture.

Since Tsang's death in 2007, dozens of his graffiti have been destroyed, mostly through construction, neglect or deliberate removal by various government departments.

The Home Affairs Department has made haphazard attempts to preserve a few surviving street pieces, but most of Tsang's supporters have criticised the efforts as woefully inadequate. That was apparently what irked Chung most. So, instead of waiting for the pieces to be destroyed or worn off, he would spoil the ones most vulnerable to the elements. He defended his action by claiming he had not targeted those that have been better preserved. He better not think about laying his hands on those.

Chung is right that Hong Kong does not have enough public space for the promotion of art and artists. The government's sorry excuse of an art policy must be completely revamped if officials are sincere about their wish to encourage the local creative industry. But destroying his friend's work is not the way to go about it. He has raised the issues. Now he must stop.