(Edited) I just found this interesting Online Exhibition of Kowloon King on google.
The website described him as a graffiti artist/ urban poet/ one of Hong Kong’s most celebrated and misunderstood cultural icons. Probably these keywords may give you some hints on what I am talking about in the following.
Madness of the Kowloon King (12 November 1921 – 15 July 2007)
Tsang , the self- claimed “Kowloon King” (not artist!), is well known for his writings (graffiti) on public facilities in Kowloon His writings challenged the government’s injustice on land issues by revealing his own family tragedy repeatedly. In face of being charged and criticized by the authority, publicly teased as a madman, family struggles, he undoubtedly chose to continue his writing in the busiest districts of Hong Kong. He is like the real life version of Don Quijote de la Mancha- neglecting how the crowd view and think, but keep doing what he think is right. His thoughts might be well described by an ancient poem:
唐寅 《挑花庵歌》 ：「若將富貴比貧賤，一在平地一在天；若將貧賤比車馬，他得驅馳我得閑。別人笑我忒瘋癲，我笑他人看不穿；不見五陵豪傑墓，無花無酒鋤作田。」
Bringing Contradictions to the Front
Nowadays, with the widespread media and open source of information, we are more accessible to wider knowledge, but at the same time we’re constantly distracted and interrupted by the overwhelming data base. Nowadays, many people always randomly pick some juicy facts among the database to build up an argument, without any in depth understanding of human behaviors.This led us to fall into the trap of logical fallacies and prejudice despite the accessibility to information.
During Tsang’s lifetime, he had been criticized by the public and politicians as committing vandalism. After his death, however, appreciation has been gradually shared among the public, thanks to the shared anger and depression towards the government. Many had even suggested that these writings should be preserved as heritage, as they are perceived as a collective memory over time. However, the writings style has been then criticized by classical calligraphers and related enthusiasts that Tsang’s writings are not comparable to traditional Chinese calligraphy. And of course, being mocked in the writings, the government refused to keep them visible in public.
In a modern perspective, Tsang’s writing exposed the irony of the society- the absurdity in the norm. What’s more absurd? The restless writing in public areas (even commit vandalism)? Or the irresponsible and incompetent government? Or the public who keep on criticizing the “vandalism” part, but fail to address bigger issues of the incompetent government?
Similar debates have repeated in various different occasions in Hong Kong, and they seem an endless controversy. One major problem is that all these arguments are untenable to support themselves respectively. In the next session, I am going to discuss the art and political values of Tsang’s work in an unprecedented perspective.
The Aesthetics Beyond Style.
Nowadays, I think most of us can intuitively sense that the aesthetic of these writings is clearly beyond the writing style (which is stressed among the calligraphers). However, up till now there’s no single tenable argumentation to defend Tsang’s work in cultural or art fields. This is because the content of the writings is often personal (failed to be classified as”collective memories”), and the styles of writing is not close to any traditional aesthetics in calligraphy.
To breakthrough from these dead-ends, I look at Tsang’s work as a performance art. The act of restless writing on public areas itself reveals an unbeatable determination and bravery of expressing one’s opinion as a civilian. It is this spirit behind resonates with so many people, which comprises a sense of collective memory.
From a point of view, there is an interesting and unique fusion of oriental ancient inscriptions and western graffiti in Tsang’s work. The former resembles a spirit of “rigidity, determination, truthfulness“, while the latter expresses emotions of ” rebellion, dissatisfaction, challenging“. Ancient inscriptions are often found on the rocks of mountains, where historical criticism and poetic emotions are kept away and protected from the political inspections, in which intentional travelers can share the same emotion and spirits through excursions. This can justified that “writing”, as a form of unofficial historical documentation and expression of collective memories, is actually inherited from the Chinese tradition. What’s more interesting in Tsang’s work is that he deliberately expressed underlying social and political messages through personal stories under the public view, without fear of being arrested. This mindset exactly aligns with the modern notion of “graffiti”, which is originated from the western world, often linked to provocations, protest and objections.
Political, Cultural significance of The Writings
It is not just a random mixture of Chinese and Western art and culture. With a unique colonial history and its relationship with China, Hong Kong is a birthplace for many unique fusion of ideas. Not by imitating, but by perceiving and internalizing the differences, we create our own art and culture, maybe imperceptibly. As mentioned briefly before, art always intertwine with politics. From Tsang’s writings, we witnessed a transformation of art, and more importantly a mindset due to politics: feudalism of Chinese Empires (reflected by the hiding of political sensitive inscriptions at rural areas), towards a more democratic political ideal due to colonial influence (reflected by the visibility of the art in public area).
These transformations depicts the intertwining relationships between history, politics, art and culture of Hong Kong. If we critically discuss and explore deeper in it, we may come up with a greater inspiration of how this special genre of art contributes to modern collective memories and historical documenting.
It just comes up to my mind: the Lennon Wall of Umbrella Movement. It seems that words always play an important role in Chinese community. Frederick Mote once said about Chinese, ” the past was a past of words, not of stones.”
Can we inherit the King’s habit in a meaningful way someday?
Reference article below
西班牙作家塞萬提斯（Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra，1547 —1616）於1605年及1615年出版了兩本反騎士小說、故事背景是一個沒有騎士的年代，主角唐吉訶德幻想自己是騎士，唐吉訶德把風車看成了巨人、旅店看成城堡、羊群看成了敵人。塞萬提斯原意，是借唐吉訶德，諷刺他身處年代那些脫離現實的騎士小說，可是，後世卻把唐吉訶德比諭作敢於堅持自己理想、不理會世俗冷嘲熱諷、堅持自己的觀點、衝擊社會不合理現像的人。
唐寅的《挑花庵歌》 ：「若將富貴比貧賤，一在平地一在天；若將貧賤比車馬，他得驅馳我得閑。別人笑我忒瘋癲，我笑他人看不穿；不見五陵豪傑墓，無花無酒鋤作田。」今天，我們似乎已沒有唐寅的灑脫，可以將俗世價值，拋諸腦後，追求那值得追求，不為世俗認同的理想，更不要說有李白於「廬山謠寄廬侍御虛舟」詩中的那份無視傳統主流道德的氣概：「我本楚狂人鳳歌笑孔丘 」。那個封建時代，連孔仲尼也可以笑，還有甚可以怕？
直到今天，我仍堅持照我認為我應該做的事、我認為正確的事，無晦無怨地去做，縱使已有太多人指責我的處世、處事方式，更沒有多少人認同，可是作為 Erynnyes ，我仍是無怨無咎，也不求任何人認同，你們說我自我放棄？我說我燃盡自己，追尋那不為世人認同的目標！