I’m a big fan of street art for all sorts of reasons: it is a sign of dynamic urban life, it is a jab in the face of authority, it makes my walks through the city more interesting. But street art, like all forms of art, can get stuck in a rut. When it takes itself too seriously I begin to lose interest.
That is why I am so fascinated by what might be termed outsider street art. This is the work creates by people who don’t see themselves as artists and who don’t necessarily conceive of what they’re doing as art. Their work is a means to an end, but because that end is often opaque, the message is seductively ambiguous. Two prime examples of this are the King of Kowloon and the Plumber King.
Last weekend, I came across another example while walking through King’s Park, a hilly green area not far from my apartment. On the side of a quiet road leading up to an underground reservoir, somebody had scrawled dozens of words, phrases and names on a white retaining wall. Some referred to history, others to literature, still others to common sayings. What they had to do with one another wasn’t clear.
Here’s a list of some the phrases that caught my eye:
CITY ON A HILL
A HAPPY GIGGLE
HOLD THAT TIGER
SCENIC CAPE TOWN
Each of these is strangely evocative — they sound like the settings, characters and plot points of a particularly complicated Hercule Poirot mystery. Are they the products of a particularly fervid imagination? Or is there some kind of pattern?
I decided to look up some of the proper names written on the wall to see if they were connected to one another in any way:
TITUS LIVIUS (a Roman historian; also a racehorse)
AL MUFTI (leader of a revolt against the Ottoman Empire; also a racehorse)
AL AKBAR (a Dungeons & Dragons demigod; also a racehorse)
BIANCONI (an Italian scholar, an Italo-Irish entrepreneur and a racehorse)
ANZIYAN (a racehorse)
SHEIK ALBADOU (a racehorse)
MUJADIL (a racehorse)
NUREYEV (a Russian ballet dancer… and a horse)
Notice a trend? It turns out that all of the names on the first list — including Gone West, Editor’s Notes and British Banker — are racehorses as well.
Hong Kong is a city obsessed with horse racing. I’m having a good time imagining one of the old men who sit outside the Jockey Club every Sunday wandering up to King’s Park and feverishly scrawling the names of horses on the side of a wall.
Incidentally, I came across some more interesting graffiti on a construction hoarding in another part of King’s Park. Same person? Or just another inspired soul with a magic marker?
Tags: Exploring the City, Graffiti, Hong Kong, Kowloon, Parks, Street Art