HK Protest Art, Kwai Fong Lennon wall,” Studio Incendo

January 3, 2020; Hyperallergic

Since June 2019, Hong Kong has roiled with protests. First, they came as a response to a bill that would have allowed extradition to mainland China for some criminal suspects. More recently, after the extradition bill was withdrawn, they arose to support broader democracy for the former British colony and oppose police brutality. As reported in Hyperallergic, an essential tool in this largely youth-driven movement is viral artwork, whether writ large in public spaces or quietly transmitted through encrypted messaging apps.

Among the images associated with the Hong Kong protests are yellow hardhats, yellow umbrellas, black-clad demonstrators, goggles, and gas masks. While the umbrellas echo an earlier wave of protests from 2014, they also represent—along with the gas masks—defenses being used by today’s protesters against tear gas and other police tactics. It is no surprise these images are being incorporated into the new protest art being created in Hong Kong, as well as that being created and disseminated elsewhere in support of Hong Kong human rights.

Some of the art is documentary—capturing scenes of police brutality and weaponry; other works are more motivational. For example, original posters have been created to promote organizing principles of the movement, such as “Be Water” and “Blossom Everywhere.” “Lennon Walls,” another echo from the 2014 Umbrella Movement, are pop-up displays of handwritten messages on Post-it notes in support of the current human rights and democracy goals. Many such displays may be found around Hong Kong, but Lennon Walls in support of the current Hong Kong protests have also sprung up in cities around the world, including Sydney and Berlin.

Much of the viral artwork in support of the Hong Kong protesters is being transmitted anonymously using the encrypted messaging app Telegram—the same app used to organize the grassroots protests and demonstrations, which are “decentralized and leaderless.”

In addition to the new wave of art being created in and about Hong Kong, the Hyperallergic article highlights two artists who have taken classic images from other historic moments and repurposed them to represent this particular moment in Hong Kong:

  • Harcourt Romanticist, inspired by Eugène Delacroix’s 1830 painting Liberty Leading the People, created Our Vantage, which echoes the composition of the original painting but replaces its figures with 21st-century Hong Kong protesters.
  • Chinese-Australian political cartoonist Badiucao, inspired by the iconic 1945 Joe Rosenthal photograph Raising the Flag at Iwo Jima, similarly echoed the original composition, but replaced US Marines with Hong Kong protesters in yellow hard hats, raising a “Lennon Wall” flag.

These almost-universally recognized images from earlier struggles serve both to link Hong Kong citizens with other campaigns for freedom and democracy; and to remind us just how powerful art and artists can be in advancing human rights and advocating for change.—Eileen Cunniffe