Entering into the spacious ArtisTree venue, one is greeted by the dramatic cascading triptych-like banner that reads “Memories of King Kowloon”. The exhibition seeks to celebrate the life and body of work of Tsang Tsou-choi (a.k.a. King Kowloon), a man that unwittingly became one of Hong Kong’s most iconic artists. Art Radar reports on our visit to the show.

Entrance view, "Memories of King Kowloon", ArtisTree, Hong Kong. Photo credit: Victor Pena.

Click here to read about ArtisTree exhibition “Memories of King Kowloon” and here to find out more about Tsang Tsou-choi.

Tsang Tsou-choi (b. 1921-d. 2007) was an accidental artist, his practice instigated by a need to express his displeasure at the government for failing to recognise the land and titles that he claimed were rightfully his. (Although his claims were never backed up with any proof.)

Portraits of King Kowloon (Tsang Tsou-choi). Photo credit: Victor Pena.

A variety of photographs documenting the King at work and his actual works are featured. A caption reads:

The King claimed to rule the whole peninsula of Kowloon, regardless of whatever treaties bound the sovereignty of Hong Kong to the British and the late Qing governments. Tsang issued his royal patents and decrees with his black ink and brushes on lampposts and walls. Some called it graffiti and the King kept toddling across the streets in Hong Kong to make sure his messages were known to the public.

Due to the nature of his works, Tsang had frequent run-ins with the authorities and “the police pitted themselves against [him] in a cat-and-mouse game for years, effacing his work wherever they found it and detaining him several times.” (Reuters)

The second part of the exhibition shows glass boxes illuminating and encasing objects in relation to the King’s life. Newspaper clippings, a sample of a shirt produced by Hong Kong lifestyle company G.O.D. that made use of Tsang’s art, his personal ink bottles, a short commentary on the King’s fondness for Coca Cola and more become puzzle pieces to viewers, helping them piece together a view of the artist’s life.

A hat adorned with King Kowloon's scrawl. Photo credit: Victor Pena.

The third leg of the show displays sections of the King’s actual works of calligraphy. Written in an almost child-like scrawl, the messages are random commentary about Hong Kong government in relation to his life. One section talks about one of his daughters marrying a man from England and moving with him to his homeland. Tsang used to say that his daughter went to Great Britain to discuss matters with the Queen.

Some of King Kowloon's calligraphy. Photo credit: Victor Pena.

The section is followed by an array of popular culture products that made use of the King’s distinct calligraphy-graffiti. Converse designed a shoe using his writing style and a corner of the area allows viewers to don a headset and watch the King’s guest appearance in the film Queen of Kowloon.

Converse shoe design based on work of Tsang Tsou-choi. Photo credit: Victor Pena.

There is an interactive “reprieve” in the exhibition which allows viewers to make their own etchings of Tsang’s works, accompanied by a simulated Hong Kong wall on which people can scrawl whatever they want à la Tsang.

People may say Tsang was delusional and crazy, but according curator and long time friend, Joel Chung, as quoted by CNNGo, he was anything but.

‘If he really was crazy, then I have got to question whether I am also crazy. I had no problem communicating with him. He was a happy old man. He was also definitely an eccentric. He was totally focused on doing one thing and one thing only. But many professionals have worked with him successfully. [He] has been featured in commercials, art, movies, and if he was really crazy then they would not have been able to cooperate with him.

‘He was also very generous. His work was done in a public space so that he could share it with everyone. His writing eventually became a part of the Hong Kong landscape.’

Recognising the value and importance of Tsang’s work, the last part of the exhibition encompasses contemporary artists paying tribute to the King through works that have been influenced by his artistic presence. There is a great array of pieces, ranging from painting to video work as well as sculpture. An ethereal white and grey panel gown is, for example, suspended and lit like a beacon in the dark room.

Lo Sing Chin, 'Untitled', 2011. Photo credit: Victor Pena.

More than recapturing what Tsang was trying to do, the artists have attempted to recreate the sentiments they have felt and learned from his art. And this is what “Memories of King Kowloon” really feels like it is supposed to do; more than a timeline of the colourful and eccentric life of Tsang, it entreats viewers to recognise the significant, however unassuming and accidental, impression and influence this funny old man really had on Hong Kong culture.

“Memories of King Kowloon” is being held from 20 April to 31 May at ArtisTree, 1/F Cornwall House, TaiKoo Place.


Related Topics: Hong Kong artists, calligraphy, graffiti

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By Brittney

Brittney is a writer, curator and contemporary art gallerist. Born in Singapore and based in New York City, Brittney maintains a deep interest in the contemporary art landscape of Southeast Asia. This is combined with an equally strong interest in contemporary art from the Asian diasporas, alongside the issues of identity, transmigration and global relations.

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