Preserving the King’s Legacy

Star Ferry King of Kowloon

One of the last remains of Tsang Tsou Choi’s work, now protected by a special coating and latex screen

During his lifetime, the King of Kowloon was seen by the Hong Kong government as little more than a nuisance. But that was before the Star Ferry incident raised public awareness about identity, culture and heritage issues. So in 2007, after the King—also known as Tsang Tsou Choi, the oldest graffiti writer in the world—passed away, the government promised to do everything it could to preserve what was left of his distinctive graffiti.

Turns out the government isn’t capable of doing much. Although it was quick to spray a protective coating on a prominent piece of Tsang’s work at the Tsim Sha Tsui Star Ferry pier, the South China Morning Post reveals that many other pieces, especially those near Tsang’s home in Kwun Tong, remain unprotected and vulnerable to decay and vandalism. (The SCMP article is locked behind a paywall, but you can see a short slideshow they produced about the remains of Tsang’s work, which I’ve embedded below.) Lau Kin Wai, an artist and friend of Tsang, hopes to draw attention to the matter by holding a protest this weekend at the Star Ferry pier.

In the Legislative Council, opposition lawmaker Alan Leong has made a fuss about the preservation of Tsang’s graffiti, which prompted a sheepish response from the Home Affairs Bureau yesterday. Maybe, it said, the government would simply take some photos of Tsang’s graffiti, rather than preserve its actual physical remains. If you forget that the government is trying to tiptoe around its own promise, that the remaining works would be protected after Tsang died, its position almost makes sense. Graffiti is, after all, a inherently ephemeral form of art. It isn’t meant to last. In most cases, I’d hesitate before throwing my support behind a government effort to preserve a piece of graffiti.

But this is a special case. Tsang was unique: he was making political statements, not artistic ones, and his graffiti stands alone for its distinctive form of Chinese calligraphy. Preserving his work will keep his spirit in the streets. Besides, Hong Kong doesn’t have a rich tradition of graffiti. Just a few neighbourhoods have street art of any note and none of it is particularly inventive or cutting-edge. By making a deliberate effort to include Tsang’s graffiti in the canon of Hong Kong heritage, the government will demonstrate that street art and public political statements remain a vital part of the city’s identity.

Homage to King of Kowloon

Homage to the King in North Point. Take a closer look.


This entry was written by Christopher DeWolf , posted on Thursday April 02 2009at 11:04 pm , filed under Art and Design, Asia Pacific, Heritage and Preservation, Politics, Public Space, Society and Culture, Video and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink . Post a comment below or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.

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