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City Weekend

If these shutters could talk: graffiti art on Hong Kong shopfronts paint stories behind community and owners

Campaign seeks to enhance inclusion and highlight local culture

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 03 June, 2017, 2:33pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 03 June, 2017, 2:33pm

Some Hong Kong streets have been turned into graffiti galleries by local artists, who painted the shutters of 20 stores in Wan Chai, Sai Ying Pun and Sheung Wan based on their interactions with the community, and the appearances of shop owners.

This is phase one of the HK Urban Canvas, a community art project organised by charity Hong Kong Youth Arts Foundation and sponsored by the Standard Chartered Hong Kong 150th Anniversary Community Foundation. The project aims to enhance community inclusion and highlight unique aspects of local culture through oral history.

“The main focus of phase one is public art. We have invited six groups of artists to design unique works of shutter art that reflect the personalities and histories of the owners of 20 shops on Hong Kong Island,” foundation director Wendy Tsang Wai-man said.

As part of the project, a HK Urban Canvas mobile app was developed for users to locate each piece of shutter art as well as to find out more about the design concept and the stories behind each store.

Visitors to such stores can also use an augmented reality app on their smartphones to call up related animations by capturing an image of shop exteriors with their phone cameras.

“We have this idea because we feel like oral history is very important. When you want to know more about the past, it’s better to hear from a firsthand experience. So, we decided to combine visual art with oral history,” Tsang said.

Artist Marka Mak Ka-yan said she spent three days observing the operation of a soy products shop on Third Street in Sheung Wan for her artwork.

The shop, Kwan Hing Kee, is owned by Chow Fung-king, 64, who is also known as “Mrs Kwan” in the neighbourhood. Chow’s outlet was set up in the 1920s by her father-in-law. She took over the business in the 1980s and has been running it since.

“Mrs Kwan is always smiling. She spends lots of time chatting with her customers and giving them cooking tips. So I chose lots of bright and vivid colours,” Mak said.

The artist drew the joyful face of the shop owner and her cat named Chocolate on the shutter.

Another artist Ho Man-wai, 29, who drew the shutter art for a handbags shop, dried seafood store and eye wear outlet, said her works brought back childhood memories.

“I grew up in a public housing estate in Shek Kip Mei, where I was really close with the neighbours. But now we rarely talk to our neighbours,” Ho said. “When I was drawing in these old districts, I spent lots of time talking to the shop owners and residents. It’s very heart-warming.”

Phase two of the project is a series of art education programmes in which more than 450 young people, teachers and professional artists produced pieces inspired by stories from the local community. Works range from clay sculptures to wooden puppets.

For example, artist Wong Wing-fung and other secondary school students created lamp shades with inner paintings based on the stories of traditional market stall owners. Their works are displayed at the HK Urban Canvas Exhibition in Comix Home Base, Wan Chai, from 10am to 8pm daily until June 12.