Hong Kong Erasure

During a recent mass-march through the centre of Hong Kong, protestors left hundreds of messages over the road and on walls, street signs and bus stops. Afterwards, the authorities ordered workers to clean away the messages. Most were painted over, but the messages on tram stops were only smeared.

This left the messages obscured, but not completely erased. Almost all of the original messages were lost, but they were transformed into something new. These expressive brushstrokes capture the energy and essence of the moment in Hong Kong: upheaval, collision, anger and violence. But also resistance and hope.

I was amazed that the act of erasing these heartfelt protest messages could result in something so evocative. They are reminiscent of classical Chinese ink and wash or abstract expressionist paintings; art forms that seek to capture the spirit or essence of things, rather than what they look like. In this case, there are two ‘artists’ who represent both sides of the conflict: the protestor and the cleaner (working on the orders of the government).

In some cases, demonstrators wrote over already smeared messages from earlier protests. These too were smeared; the different coloured inks of the messages combining to create striking images.

I spent three nights photographing these strange ‘artworks’, dodging traffic and tear gas. But as I worked, they were beginning to disappear; replaced by new advertisements for investment banks and life insurance. Although the messages will soon be erased completely, the sentiment behind them remains as strong as ever.