Occupy Central

Fight to preserve Hong Kong's protest-inspired street art

Fearing imminent police action, artists are striving to save Occupy-inspired works for posterity

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 22 October, 2014, 5:42pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 23 October, 2014, 5:32am

Cultural workers are racing to save and archive creative works displayed at Occupy protest sites after city museums refused to help document the now world-famous artworks.

Several artists had already been documenting the various works around the Admiralty, Mong Kok and Causeway Bay protest sites when the High Court granted temporary injunction orders on Monday, calling for some areas to be cleared. Worried that police may act soon, artists redoubled their efforts, calling for more volunteers and saying Hong Kong must take responsibility to preserve the works.

The artists have had some high-profile support: one of Britain's leading museums is displaying some protest items and seeking more.

Artists Wen Yau, Sampson Wong Yu-hin and others have launched the Umbrella Movement Visual Archives and Research Collection, organising 60 volunteers to catalogue the works in Admiralty.

"This is the largest social movement Hong Kong has seen and now the most urgent [matter] is to rescue these objects for future research," Wen said.

Wong said the works - ranging from sculpture to posters - had sprung up because of the sudden opening of public space.

"We don't want the objects to be destroyed by the police," said Wong, who created Stand by You - Add Oil Machine, which projects messages of solidarity from around the world.

The lit messages are projected onto the side of government headquarters.

The significance of the Occupy artworks has been recognised in London, where the Victoria and Albert Museum has included an umbrella and yellow ribbon in its Disobedient Objects.

The exhibition's co-curator Gavin Grindon said the organisers were sourcing objects used in Hong Kong to add to the exhibition, which will travel to Chile and the Powerhouse Museum in Sydney, Australia next year.

The museum also hopes to bring the show to Asia.

"What has stood out in the Hong Kong protests is the speed and diversity of the creative approaches to the culture of protest," Grindon said. He cited the bamboo barricades and use of water bottles to protect protesters' arms from police batons as examples.

Wen hoped a HK$50,000 to HK$100,000 start-up fund could be raised to preserve the artworks so the collection could be turned over to institutions in the future.

Kacey Wong, the Umbrella Movement Art Preservation initiator, said that works ranging from banners and logos to sculptures like the Umbrella Man and Umbrella Flower erected in Admiralty were created "out of a student movement fighting for quality political reform".

Wong, an artist and assistant design professor at Polytechnic University, said the art was politically important because the movement prompted an unprecedented explosion of creativity. The "Lennon Wall" with Post-it notes of support, shrines in Mong Kok with images of Jesus Christ and the Chinese warrior god Guan Gong, and tactics such as the protesters' spontaneous singing of Happy Birthday when provoked by opponents should all be archived for future research, Wong said.

Wong said private collectors and gallery operators had offered storage space, but museum officials rejected the works because they were created out of an "illegal assembly".

Both M+, the West Kowloon visual culture museum, and government said they had received no formal request about collecting the protest art.