Hong Kong welcomes its largest ever exhibition of international street art, tapping into a contemporary art trend that is gaining legitimacy almost as fast as popularity across Asia.

A Hong Kong office has been transformed from disused space to street art show, pairing seven crews from the city’s nascent graffiti scene with seven international counterparts. The city’s largest exhibition of street art so far, “Work in Progress” marks another step on Asian graffiti’s journey to acceptance as contemporary art.

Rhone, exhibition view from "Work in Progress", 2013. Image courtesy HKYAF.

Rone, exhibition view from “Work in Progress”, 2013. Image courtesy Swire Properties.

Work in Progress,” held between 17 June and 7 July 2013, sees the 14 featured graffiti groups and artists create murals and mixed media installations both inside and outside Hong Kong’s Somerset House, one of the city’s most “buttoned up” commercial blocks according to the Wall Street Journal. The works will remain after the exhibition closes out, leading local street artists to hope that their genre is gaining legitimacy as an art form.

“Work in Progress” street artists:

I do feel like this is a starting point, this is a really big thing. There are so many big artists coming,” local featured street artist Cara To, aka Cat Time Biatch, told Time Out Hong Kong.

Cannonball Press, exhibition view from "Work in Progress", 2013. Image courtesy HKYAF.

Cannonball Press, exhibition view from “Work in Progress”, 2013. Image courtesy Swire Properties.

Maria Wong from the Hong Kong Youth Arts Federation (HKYAF), which co-organised the show, agreed that the influx of international artists might kick-start the city’s local scene. “Not many people know about it, but there is a street art scene in Hong Kong,” Wong told the Wall Street Journal. “Having all of these people coming here has been very inspiring for the local artists.”

Encouraging and embracing Hong Kong’s street art

Wong points out that right now the city’s native graffiti scene is zygotic, with “less than thirty” artists creating street art works. “Work in Progress” incorporates interactive talks, workshops, video installations, live painting and a guided street art tour in an effort to encourage Hong Kongers to “go out into the street and notice the tags and throw-ups and murals that are out there,” says Wong.

The international artists participating in the exhibition harbour similar hopes, says Davey, one half of street art group Cyrcle. Speaking to Time Out, LA-based Davey said he wants to represent the art form well, so that “people could embrace it – that’s part of the goal now.”

Cyrcle., 'CAPTURE THE FLAG: THE DOMESTICATION OF ALL THINGS! (Part 1)', exhibition view "Work in Progress", 2013. Image courtesy HKYAF.

Cyrcle., ‘CAPTURE THE FLAG: THE DOMESTICATION OF ALL THINGS! (Part 1)’, exhibition view “Work in Progress”, 2013. Image courtesy Swire Properties.

Street art and graffiti artists in Asia


Hong Kong may not have been known for its street art up until now, notes the Wall Street Journal, but other cities in Asia have embraced the form more enthusiastically. Graffiti from across Indonesia, particularly the urban centres of Jakarta and Yogyakarta, is archived in the Indonesian Street Art Database (ISAD); local movements such as Berbeda dan Merdeka push for political change through the medium of urban art.

Click here to watch Indonesian street art on MOCAtv

Gery Paulandhika, 'Berbeda dan Merdeka 100%', Medan, 2011. Image courtesy Indonesia Street Art Movement.

Gery Paulandhika, ‘Berbeda dan Merdeka 100%’, Medan, 2011. Image courtesy Indonesia Street Art Movement.


Graffiti groups are also mushrooming in the Philippines. Contemporary artist Mark Salvatus, winner of the Ateneo Award in 2010 and the Sovereign-Schoeni Award in 2013, started his career as a street artist and co-founded the Pilipinas Street Plan (PSP), a group dedicated the urban art ephemera. Groups such as Street Konect aim to link Filipino graffiti artists to create a stronger scene.

Taiwan and Singapore

Attitudes among some local authorities across Asia are also shifting when it comes to street art. In October 2012 the southern city of Kaohsiung in Taiwan expanded the areas where graffiti is legally permitted. This stands in stark contrast to Singapore’s intransigence when it comes to urban expression: in June 2012 a 25 year street artist was arrested for “vandalism” after sticker-bombing and spray-painting at traffic lights.

Cassandra Naji


Related Topics: street art, Hong Kong artists, international artists, graffiti, shows in Hong Kong

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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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