'King of Kowloon' Tsang Tsou-choi's surviving street art threatened

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 22 September, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 22 September, 2012, 4:00am

While a graffiti work by the "King of Kowloon" has made its way to a public museum, one of the last remaining authentic street works by Tsang Tsou-choi is slowly decaying, its future still a muddle.

The beleaguered panel of Tsang's unmistakable black-ink calligraphy appears on the exterior metal doors of an installation room of the defunct Silver Theatre, in Kwun Tong.

The calligraphy has seen better days. Parts of its surface are peeling, and old posters have been glued onto it. It is exposed to vehicle fumes and vulnerable to the attentions of passers-by.

The closed theatre was bought by the government and passed on to the Urban Renewal Authority, which is due to demolish it at some future date.

But neither the government nor the URA has come up with an idea of what to do with Tsang's gate, one of only four works of his known to have survived.

The URA and the government have both made positive noises. The URA said it "will keep the gate and discuss them with interested parties, such as museums and arts organisations, and see what is the best thing to do."

Two of Tsang's long-time fans, critic Lau Kin-wai and toy collector Joel Chung Yin-chai, have campaigned separately over the years for the gates' preservation. They have even offered to pay for new gates, so that Tsang's can be removed and spared further damage.

Lau approached the government repeatedly, including meeting with the Undersecretary of Home Affairs, Florence Hui Hiu-fai. But none of the talks were productive.

"I was very disappointed because she didn't really understand Tsang's meaning to the people of Hong Kong," Lau said, recalling the experience. "If there's anything I can do, I hope I can help get the gates preserved and donated to a public institution. And I think M+ is the best home for these gates." M+ is the museum, planned for West Kowloon, where one of Tsang's works has found a permanent home.

Only four of Tsang's street works are still known to survive: a pillar at Tsim Sha Tsui's Star Ferry pier, a lamp post at Ping Shek Estate, a wall near Baptist University's Academy of Visual Arts, and the steel door of the theatre in Kwun Tong.

Tsang's works were exhibited at the 50th Venice Biennale in 2003, and individual pieces have been auctioned off for up to HK$800,000.