Artist sketches umbrella movement protests

PUBLISHED : Monday, 10 November, 2014, 5:26pm
UPDATED : Monday, 10 November, 2014, 6:27pm

Sitting on Harcourt Road in Admiralty with a pencil in hand, Luis Simoes starts sketching the scene before him in quick, rough strokes.

The 35-year-old Portuguese artist is a regular at the city's "umbrella movement" sites, where protesters, who are mostly students, have been camping out, demanding the public nomination of a candidate for the 2017 election of the chief executive.

Since hearing of the police using tear gas on demonstrators on September 28, Simoes has been wandering around the sites at Admiralty, Mong Kok and Causeway Bay, sketching events as they unfold in front of him.

"I see myself as a camera guy, without the camera but with a pencil and paper," says Simoes.

During the clashes in Mong Kok, he stood between protesters and police to capture the tension. He has no protective gear and he works with a sense of urgency.

"I need to work really fast in those situations, so I just do a raw sketch in one or two minutes," Simoes says.

"I think my sketchbook is like a shield for me, but I know it's just an illusion. I still get pushed and shoved by police."

In a sea of protesters wearing goggles and masks and carrying umbrellas, Simoes is easy to spot with his beard and easy smile. Protesters and police recognise him. "I think I have a visual record now: 'Here comes the crazy guy who does nothing but sketches'," he says with a laugh.

Simoes does not understand Cantonese, but that is not a barrier for him - protesters come up to him and explain what's going on. Sometimes he even gets thanked by protesters for caring about the movement.

"I'm amazed when people thank me. They say: 'Thank you for showing Hong Kong's story to the world'," says Simoes. "I think my role is to present and record the umbrella movement in an artistic way."

Although Simoes admits that a photo can convey more detail and expression, he believes sketches have their own role in capturing moments in history.

"Sketches can show a longer moment in time - like a long exposure. Some of my works cover a period of 10 minutes or so: I stand at the scene and watch what is happening in front of me, then I go to a safer place and draw from memory," he says.

When he arrived in Hong Kong in January, Simoes did not plan to stay for so long. The city is one of his stops in a five-year, round-the-world journey. He decided to stay after a design company offered him a job.

"My stay went from two weeks to 10 months," he says. "I don't know when this protest will be over, but I want to follow it until the end."

He completes three sketches a day on average and has more than 60 pieces on the umbrella movement.

One day he'll publish a book about the protest, complete with sketches and his recollections of events. Referring to the protest art in Hong Kong's occupied areas, Simoes says it's a great moment for budding artists to experiment.

"It's like an open gallery," he says. "To become a better place, Hong Kong needs this spirit of showing and sharing art."