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Art

Art

Hong Kong’s first yarn bomber Esther Poon Suk-han on her quest to cheer up unhappy city

She knits on street installations like handrails, and hopes to decorate the Tsing Ma Bridge one day

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 28 October, 2017, 3:03pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 28 October, 2017, 3:03pm

When Esther Poon Suk-han graduated in interior design, she did not expect to become a street artist.

But instead of the traditional chalk and paint, she was drawn into a unique form of art called yarn bombing, which for the past five years has led to Poon dressing up dull and ugly roadside structures in fuzzy and colourful fabrics.

The technique was said to be founded by American textile artist Magda Sayeg.

Sayeg first started with wrapping the door handle of her boutique shop for decoration and later took the art to the streets, transforming different kinds of roadside structures. The movement began in her hometown Texas and eventually went global.

Poon, a freelance personal trainer, was inspired by Sayeg and is now considered to be Hong Kong’s first yarn bomber. She has been putting colourful displays of knitted yarn on road signs, railings, fences and trees since 2012, when Sayeg invited her to take part in an exhibition in the city.

Poon, now in her 50s, said she started knitting 30 years ago, but the experience with Sayeg pushed her to think out of the box.

“Knitting nowadays is not only about making a scarf or clothes for ourselves. It’s about bringing people together,” she said.

The local “knitted graffiti” artist said she wanted to spread happiness through her work, as she observed that Hongkongers were less happy in general than 20 years ago when the economy was booming and before the 1997 handover.

“We used to joke about being the wealthiest employees before 1997. But nowadays, it seems that it’s more difficult to make a living,” she said. “People seem to be increasingly worried about their jobs. They are constantly thinking about how to survive, rather than live. They are less connected with their neighbours and friends than in the past.”

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Poon said when she was knitting on the streets, many pedestrians would come over and chat with her, and ultimately, she wanted to “form a community through knitting”.

She has carried out yarn bombing projects in Central, Causeway Bay and Sheung Wan during Christmas and the Lunar New Year.

Recently, Poon and seven team members decorated pedestrian handrails on Pottinger Street in Central in festive patterns for Halloween. It took them two months to create the display and four hours to install it.

Although some of their works had already been damaged just a day after the installation, Poon said she wasn’t upset because that gave her a chance to create something new again.

“Also, that’s the nature of street art,” she said. “Unlike in museums, we want our audiences to not only see our works but also touch and feel them.”

The first time she was decorating handrails on Hollywood Road, she recalled being so nervous that her hands were shaking and she felt like she was “doing something illegal”.

“Because no one had done this before, I wasn’t sure what other people, especially the police, would think of me.”

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Local authorities have been criticised by the art community for not welcoming street art.

In 2014, the work of French undercover street artist Invader on a wall along King’s Road near Fortress Hill was removed by the Highways Department.

Earlier this year, a contractor hired by the government mistakenly painted over a key piece of graffiti art in Kwun Tong by late artist “King of Kowloon” Tsang Tsou-choi.

Poon said she had similar experiences before but was still confident that the local art industry would continue to thrive.

She said she hoped that she could weave her magic on Tsing Ma Bridge in Hong Kong, one of the world’s longest suspension bridges. Poon added that it would be a historic occasion to be able to install art on a city landmark.

“Knitting is like painting a picture. It should be more than just one colour,” she said.

“And I want to add as many colours to the city as possible to make people happy,” she added.