Living heritage of Hong Kong

Hong Kong collector slams government over ruined work of graffiti artist ‘King of Kowloon’ Tsang Tsou-choi

Out of 10 works still existing in public, one was recently found destroyed while only two others have been officially protected

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 02 May, 2017, 9:03am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 02 May, 2017, 5:51pm

The biggest collector of works by late graffiti artist “King of Kowloon” has slammed the government for being “narrow-minded”.

The criticism came after authorities said they accidentally destroyed a piece by Tsang Tsou-choi in renovation works last week.

Joel Chung Yin-chai, who archives cultural objects and was a long-time friend of Tsang, said there were ways the Leisure and Cultural Services Department could have preserved the graffiti on an electric switch box near Sam Shan Kwok Wong Temple.

The Kwun Tong work, created by Tsang more than 25 years ago, was found last week to have been painted over “by mistake”.

The department said a contractor in charge of renovation works committed the error, which sparked public outrage.

“Their idea of preservation is very narrow-minded,” Chung said, adding the department could have put up a sign to indicate that the graffiti was a protected artwork.

A department spokesman said it was not viable to have cordoned off the switch box, which was still functioning, as it would have obstructed regular meter recordings and maintenance.

He added that it was also not viable to apply any protective coating to the street art, or to cover it with acrylic sheets.

“The graffiti has been documented by making photographic records,” the spokesman said.

Calligraphies on a pillar at Star Ferry Pier and on a lamp post at Ping Shek Estate were encased in acrylic at their original locations by the Home Affairs Bureau in 2009.

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His other works in Hong Kong were documented through a series of photographs.

Chung said that out of 10 works that remained in public places, only two – the Star Ferry Pier graffiti in Tsim Sha Tsui and the one at Ping Shek Estate, Kwun Tong – were officially protected by the government in 2009, two years after Tsang died.

The switch box graffiti was the latest work to be destroyed.

Another piece in Kowloon Bay was also covered in white paint by the government about a month ago, while others are scattered across lamp posts in Yau Mai Tei and Fanling, and some are drawn on hillside structures.

“These surviving graffiti are vulnerable to further damage as they are exposed to the air without any protection,” Chung said.

Tsang was born in Guangdong in 1921 and started drawing graffiti in the 1950s.

He would hobble around the city on crutches, shirtless and clutching a plastic bag of brushes and ink, writing on walls, lamp posts, electrical switch boxes, and post boxes in Kowloon and on Hong Kong Island between the 1950s and the early 2000s.

His calligraphic style later inspired fashion designers and other artists.

This year marks the 10th anniversary of his death.