The HKwalls festival is a live painting street art event that’s coloured the walls (and shutters) of Stanley Market, Sheung Wan and Sham Shui Po. The festival was co-founded by Jason Dembski in 2014, a former architecture student who moved to Hong Kong from the United States.
Having honed his passion for graffiti and street art stateside, Dembski was immediately drawn to the local street art scene in Hong Kong and began to document it in his photography blog, HK Street Art. He became ingrained in the city’s community of street artists and graffiti artists, collaborating on the Work In Progress exhibition in 2013, which paved the way for HKwalls.
This year, the festival takes place in Wong Chuk Hang from March 18-26. Dembski plans to launch workshops for schools in the Southside later this year. Plans for an artist residency and exchange program are also in the pipeline.
We speak to Jason about this year’s festival.
How difficult has it been to get permission to paint on these walls?
Operating in an industrial neighbourhood this year, as opposed to the previous areas (which have all been residential), has been more difficult. Sometimes, 100 people can own one building; we can’t just walk in and get permission in 30 seconds. But everyone we’ve spoken to – businesses and the people in the neighbourhood – has been very supportive and enthusiastic.
Is there an interactive element for the public? I understand there’s been an open call for participation…
The whole point of the open submission was to find people we aren’t already aware of. I suppose it helps a bit if there’s some past connection to street art or graffiti, but it’s not a prerequisite. We’re open to collaborating with media artists, performers…we’re just trying to see what’s out there. At the moment, we’re looking at involving around 20 artists. Hopefully it will continue to grow all the way up until the actual festival.
The HKwalls festival is held during Art Month each year…
That’s because during Art Month we found there wasn’t much happening to street art, graffiti, murals, or anything exterior or open to the public. Most of the events were either ticketed and about selling art or VIP parties. We saw a gap.
What made Wong Chuk Hang the right fit?
We wanted a change of scenery, but it’s also because of the art scene and the creative community that’s here. There is a creative culture in the neighbourhood already, but most of it is kept indoors, so we thought it could be a nice compliment.
For more information, visit www.hkwalls.org