Occupy Central

Creative awakening sparked by Occupy Central as sit-ins reclaim streets

From art to the practicalities of protest, Hongkongers’ innovation and imagination are on show

PUBLISHED : Monday, 06 October, 2014, 10:43am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 20 June, 2018, 5:47pm

Dawn broke yesterday on a new figure standing outside government headquarters in Admiralty: a three-metre statue of a person holding an umbrella and bearing an uncanny resemblance to the Tiananmen Square icon: the Goddess of Democracy.

The statue, the work of a designer and a group of about 10 friends in the past few days, was the latest example of how the protests have brought out participants' creativity in both practical and artistic ways.

They have mounted new road signs pointing at an expressway to true democracy. They have created hundreds of artworks inspired by umbrellas. They have developed creative solutions to coordinate supplies of water, food and protective equipment while making creative use of newfound public spaces in Admiralty, Causeway Bay and Mong Kok.

Cultural critics and artists said the movement had allowed young people to reclaim their rights to the city's public space. The vast roads and flyovers which are suddenly free of traffic gave them a new freedom and imagination to redefine Hong Kong.

"There is social innovation," said cross-media artist Wen Yau.

"Hong Kong lacks public space, which suppresses our imagination. When the rules that bind your action are suddenly lifted, you are given the freedom to redefine everything," she said. Wen's group initiated "Umbrella Everywhere". Using umbrellas as a canvas, the campaign invited the public to express their desire for democracy by painting umbrellas.

"Milk", the man who created the statue from hundreds of small pieces of wood, said he was inspired by a picture of an Occupy protester holding an umbrella for a police officer under the rain.

"That picture was very meaningful. I aspire for freedom and peace, and the picture showed that," said the artist, who refused to give his full name. "The moment I saw the picture, I had a deep feeling for it."

He said his statue was simply a piece of art, not a symbol of resistance, and did not carry the same message as the Goddess of Democracy, which appeared in the days before the military crackdown on the pro-democracy movement in Tiananmen Square on June 4, 1989.

In the protesters' Hong Kong, bus stands have become roadblocks; water-filled barriers became steps for people to climb over concrete fencing along Harcourt Road; barricades made up of umbrellas, ladders and metal railings became accidental art installations; and buses trapped by the crowds became "democracy walls" for people to leave messages.

Young people meanwhile have volunteered to clear and recycle rubbish and decide among themselves when to take shifts to guard Occupy sites through social media platforms and smartphone apps.

"This is the best education for young people, who are learning things that will never be taught at school," said graffiti and hip-hop artist Chan Kwong-yan, better known as MC Yan.

Chinese University students Wilson Fung Ching-wai and Justin Hui Jing, both 19, formed "Umbrella Creation", a Facebook page collecting people's artworks inspired by Occupy Central. They have collected more than 50 works in three days.

"Creativity is the most important thing we have to protect under the bureaucratic or even autocratic regime of the city," said Fung, a second-year architecture student.

Cosmin Costinas, executive director and curator of the Para Site contemporary art space, said students' intelligent and efficient management of protest sites created a new perception of Hong Kong.

"They have created a much more interesting image in a place with a stronger society than people have imagined," Costinas said.

Chantal Wong of Asia Art Archive - which is collecting pictures of the protests - said she had never seen such a creative Hong Kong.

"It's not just the dramatic signs but the different form of communication and creative use of space," Wong said. It showed Hong Kong as more than just an obedient money-making machine: "It is an awakening."