“Carrie Lam bends over for Xi,” “Regina Ip gave me gonorrhea”, “Obey!” These statements are part of a new wave of political artworks reappearing across Hong Kong ahead of Sunday’s heavily criticized “election” for the city’s next leader.
Compared to cities like Berlin, New York or Sao Paulo, where artistic yet arrogant graffiti is everywhere, the walls of Hong Kong have been rather empty of art and writing. The most common tags are phone numbers to real estate agents or prostitutes.
The big exception was during the 79-day pro-democracy Occupy Movement in 2014 when tens of thousands of demonstrators set up camp on main roads in large parts of the city.
With the absence of cars, buses and trucks, art flourished. The former British colony has probably never seen a more explosive period of expressive urban culture, ranging from sweet mockery to pure anger.
When riot police finally stormed in and cleared out the occupied areas, almost all the artworks were destroyed. One of the most memorable pieces in the last few days said: “We will be back.”
Now, ahead of the rigged election for the city’s chief executive – the outcome is basically predetermined by the Communist Party in Beijing – a new wave of mockery and anger is reappearing on the streets of Hong Kong.
The main characters in the Hong Kong election, and the target of the artworks, are former chief secretary Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor (who is expected to win) and lawmaker Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee (who dropped out of the race on March 1), as well as outgoing chief executive Leung Chun-ying. China’s President Xi Jinping is naturally a key figure.
The case of the five booksellers who were unlawfully abducted by mainland Chinese police in 2015 are also to be found on walls. One of the publishers, Swedish citizen Gui Minhai, is still missing and the case has raised concerns about the region’s civil liberties, which had been promised under the Sino-British Joint Declaration.
One of the most striking wall works is a remake of a famous piece by anonymous England-based graffiti artist Banksy. As a reaction against police violence in Mong Kok last year, local artist Kit Man recreated the Banksy of a masked protester about to throw the book The Tipping Point.
The best-selling title, written by Canadian journalist Malcolm Gladwell, was one of three books seized by police to build a legal case against a student, Ho Ying-kit. The book states that the success of any social movement depends heavily on the involvement of people, and defines a tipping point as “the moment of critical mass, the threshold, the boiling point.”
The drawing has an accompanying caption that says “authoritarians fear knowledge, so people who read books are rioters.”
Not all wall art is connected to Hong Kong politics. If you lean in closely enough in one urinal at a pub on the outlying island of Lamma, you’ll see a sticker of Donald Trump asking for a so-called golden shower.