Graffiti tends to be one of the least embraced art forms in any city. But it’s perhaps especially underappreciated in Hong Kong. For starters, you don’t find much of it on our walls in the first place. As for the little that you do find, much of it can come across as little more than crass vandalism. And finally, when something actually does crop up that at least attempts to present itself as art, the reaction to it tends to be either loud condemnation (as in the case of French street artist Zevs’ liquidated logo on the wall of Giorgio Armani’s store) or the stealthy painting over of such art when nobody’s looking (as in the recent case of calligraphy by Hong Kong’s own Emperor of Kowloon). But the organizer of a new project in Wong Chuk Hang called “Spray Your Rainbow” hopes to change much of that. David Fong Man-hung, deputy managing director of Hip Shing Hong Group of Companies and the grandson of the late philanthropist Fong Shu-chuen, has decided to devote 5,000 square feet of industrial space to displaying graffiti art created by local teenagers. The intention is to open people’s minds to the idea that such art can be a positive outlet for creativity among today’s youths, and to pave the way for the eventual acceptance of it in more public places. That graffiti receives little respect in Hong Kong—regardless of any artistic or cultural value it may have—is clear from the recent treatment of some of the Emperor of Kowloon’s works. Last month, fans of the late icon accused the Highways Department of covering one of his few remaining works with concrete in Kwun Tong. While the department denied the claim, the paint used over the work appeared to be the same as that over other areas of the surrounding wall where the department admitted to applying paint. Meanwhile, a more explicit rejection of the value of graffiti art could be seen earlier in July this year. French street artist Zevs was arrested in Hong Kong prior to the opening of an exhibition of his work at Art Statements Gallery, after he sprayed a water-soluable Chanel logo—in his trademark “liquidated” logo style—on the wall of Giorgio Armani’s flagship store in Central. Zevs received a two weeks’ suspended jail term, and a case is still pending in which Hong Kong Land is attempting to sue him for two million dollars. Dominique Perregaux, owner of Art Statements Gallery, points out that during the entire controversy, no mention was made of the message Zevs was trying to convey—namely that public space is being taken over by commercialism. “None of the media tried to understand why he did it,” he says. “They just immediately condemned it. It’s a shame because Hong Kong is lacking in art and this was a missed opportunity to have a debate about it.” He adds that cities such as Sao Paolo have invited Zevs to collaborate on projects that promote public dialogue about the use of open space. At the same time, Perregaux maintains that there’s an important distinction between street art and mere tagging. “For me it’s not art unless there’s an intellectual statement involved, unless the person behind it understands contemporary art,” he says. Similarly, *COM, a local graffiti artist and founder of street art collective ST/ART, feels street art and senseless graffiti shouldn’t be confused. “There’s vandalism and there’s graffiti art. To me there is a distinct difference, but certainly both exist,” he says. One of the purposes of the “Spray Your Rainbow” campaign is to clear up confusion between the two and thus combat the negative stereotypes surrounding graffiti art that often result. Founder David Fong says he came up with the idea after he and his teenage son stumbled across an instance of such art in the city one day, which immediately prompted a discussion about whether or not spraying graffiti was necessarily wrong. “I was older and still held the stereotypical view, but our debate opened my mind. I soon understood that graffiti art can be positive, that it can unleash creativity and build confidence in young people,” he says. Fong hopes the project will eventually lead to the establishment of legitimate spots for graffiti beyond the confines of indoor factory space. “We’re still culturally conservative in Hong Kong, but if Chief Executive Donald Tsang truly wants Hong Kong to be more creative, then we should encourage such creativity in new directions,” he says. He and others involved in the project have begun to make the case to the authorities, in the hopes of sorting out a pilot platform for graffiti art in public areas such as the future West Kowloon Cultural District. Naturally, some might view the project as an attempt to domesticate and sanitize an art form that belongs on the streets. And indeed, it’s unlikely to satisfy many a street artist with broader visions than any designated graffiti wall can accommodate. *COM appears to be one such artist. “The places and the work change all the time,” he says, “that’s what makes it interesting. Street art evolves and moves around the city in a natural organic way. One piece here gets covered or removed, another piece there goes up. It’s refreshing and unrestrictive. That’s the beauty of it—the city is the canvas.” Street Smart Art Despite the government’s best efforts, graffiti artists always manage to stay one step ahead. Here are some of our favorite spots to see the best street art displays. But pay a visit quickly, before the government gets there first. The Last of the Emperor Near bus 28 terminal, Star Ferry Pier, Tsim Sha Tsui The Emperor of Kowloon, also known as Tsang Tso-choi, painted his street calligraphy for decades until his death two years ago. But for just as long, the government has been trying to eradicate it—despite the fact that last month, auction house Sotheby’s sold a calligraphy piece by the emperor for $400,000. There are just five examples of Tsang’s work left in the city, with this example at the Star Ferry the only one protected by the government. The other examples can be found at Ping Shek Estate in Choi Hung, Sau Mau Ping Road, Yue Man Fong and Kwun Tong Police Station, all in Kwun Tong. The Long Stretch of Graffiti in Kowloon Tong Near Rutland Quadrant, Kowloon Tong If you pay attention when taking the train past Kowloon Tong, you’ll see a long stretch of colorful graffiti along the wall of a narrow alley, just next to the rail track. A variety of styles can be seen here. Awesome Graffiti in TST Backstreet near Hau Fook Street, Tsim Sha Tsui Tucked away down this little alley is some cool and totally unexpected graffiti. Backstreet Wonders Tang Lung Street, Causeway Bay Many graffiti artists frequent Causeway Bay, thanks to its many backstreets that make it something of a playground for street artists. There’s some pretty amazing art in the alleys near Tang Lung Street. Movie Magic Fan Ling Theatre, Fan Ling This 50-year-old cinema might be old, but it also features some pretty hip graffiti on the wall.