Hong Kong Secret Art: MTR Artworks You Might Have Missed
by: The Beat Asia
September 07, 2022
Hosting up to 4.29 million passengers on the daily, the MTR system is one of the city’s unsung heroes that we barely give a second thought to. Yet hidden right in plain sight, the MTR is home to 90 individual pieces of artwork plastered over platform walls, embedded into concourse seating, spread across every corner of elevators and escalators, and more.
These gorgeous artworks turn our everyday commutes into fleeting museum visits in between a busy day. Next time you are taking a journey underground, keep your eyes peeled for one of these amazing artworks to brighten up your trip.
Sai Ying Pun: ‘Inside, Outside’ by Louise Soloway Chan
Documenting the intricacies of everyday life in the Sai Ying Pun neighbourhood, this ambitious installation consists of a dozen bas relief walls constructed by Hong Kong-British artist Louise Soloway Chan. Traversing through the sloped streets and familiar snippets of life in the area, the stories present the lives of existing residents, incoming gentrification, and remnants of the past. Click here to read the full story behind this multidimensional piece and the work that went into making it.
Where to find it: Lift Lobby at Exit B1/B2
Ho Man Tin: ‘FrogScape’ and ‘FrogTopia Arch’ by Kwok Mang-ho and Cho Hyun-jae
Always dressed to the nines in his signature garb, multidisciplinary artist Frog King is easily spotted by his flashy patterned tunic, large handmade accessories, towering conical hat adorned full of trinkets, and kooky pinwheel sunglasses. Instantly recognisable, thanks to the inky hand-drawn shapes and bodacious frog-shaped logo, these towering pieces are the works of local legend “Frog King” Kwok Mang-ho.
Completed along with the opening of the Ho Man Tin station in the tail end of 2016, the “FrogScape” mural and “FrogTopia Arch” tick off every one of the eccentric hallmarks that run through Kwok’s various works. Working with “Frog Queen” Cho Hyun-jae, the steel-framed pieces are decorated with calligraphy-inspired patterns that meld together contemporary sensibilities with the old craft drawn from Buddhist and Confucianist works. Hoping to spread “harmony and happiness,” these broad arches will allow visitors to soak up all the positive energy from below.
Where to find it: Exit B1
Shau Kei Wan: ‘Orange Flower World’ by Emily Cheng
Piecing together Chinese-inspired elements into a vibrant mosaic that looks lifted right out of Roman and Byzantine eras, “Orange Flower World” is a whimsical portal offering a brief moment of wonder amidst the dark navy underpass that leads in and out of the Shau Kei Wan station. This grand piece is American painter Emily Cheng’s first foray into public art and was created through collaborative efforts with local gallery Hanart TZ and craftsman in China who assembled the design based off paintings Emily sent over from New York.
Drawing inspiration from the Tin Hau Temple and Tam Kung Temple in the Shau Kei Wan district, the bright oranges and symbols of nature were lifted from the surrounding temple designs and ornaments. Meditating on the urban sprawl iconic to Hong Kong, Emily wanted the piece to offer an outlet for people to de-stress through up-close and tactile interactions.
Where to find it: Exit A
Mong Kok: ‘Like Water’ by Liao Yibai
Likening the can-do Hong Kong spirit to the ideas of tenacity and adaptiveness that underlie Chinese martial arts, “Like Water” is a three-dimensional sculpture that bursts through with liveliness into the mundane location. Working between Western sculptural techniques with Chinese woodcarving, New York-based Chinese artist Liao Yibai made the piece as an homage to the principles of Chinese martial arts and philosophy.
Contrasting the hard materials with fluid shapes, the interplay between soft formlessness and toughness hearken back to Bruce Lee’s iconic tenet of “be water,” which Liao references by stating “Having practiced martial arts for many years, I wanted to show people that they need to be like water—kind, flexible and yet powerful.” An affirmation that looms as a reminder amidst the throes of rush hour.
Where to find it: Above escalator linked to Concourse Level
Yuen Long: ‘Weaving for Collective Memory’ by Man Fung-yi
Reflecting a slice of life from simpler times, local artist Man Fung-yi artfully captures the scene of a clothing line hanging in motion and distils it into a simplified representation of traditional village living. Replicating delicate lines of embroidery and needlework that many older generations of village ladies were taught to sew, the striking materials of brass and stainless steel have been reshaped into serene contours and billowing silhouettes.
Where to find it: Platform level
Yau Tong: ‘People Passing By, People Lazing By’ by Rosanna Li Wei-han
Though their unpretentious, naturalistic style makes these six figures come across as if they have been excavated from an old archaeological dig, but pay attention and you’ll find one of these curious characters holding onto a mobile phone whilst another enjoys donuts just beside them. Forged from ceramic, their exaggeratedly round proportions and peaceful expressions give off a sense of carefree calm, making for easy-going company beside an open stool where anyone can come take a seat to relax.
Where to find it: Exit A
HKU: ‘Streets and Alleys of the Western District’ by Stella So
Working with the Hong Kong Youth Arts Foundation (HKYAF), prolific local illustrator Stella So compiles the collective memories and impressions of bustling Western District streets to create an imagined blueprint full of fantastical joy. Combining iconic buildings, structures, shopfronts, and street signs, the extensive 30-metre mural runs along the corridor of the Exit C lift lobby and all the way inside the lift doors itself, blending into the streets that commuters are led out onto.
Piecing together drawings from up to 150 primary school students, with supporting graphics designed by Stella herself, she remarks that the collaboration serves as a group effort in preserving the surrounding area’s spirit and time-honoured vestiges.
Where to find it: Lift lobby towards Exit C
Lei Tung: ‘Journeys along the South Island’ by Tse Ngan-sum
Elevating the nautical theme running through the various artworks along the South Island line, this eye-catching mural is an expansive, beautiful piece that blends a multitude of influences and artistic influences with folkloric undertones. Deriving from the Willow Pattern, a Chinoiserie aesthetic popular in 18th century houseware and ceramics, artist Tse Ngan-sum worked with students who were part of HKYAF to construct patterns and scenes using the art of paper cutting, which was then re-scaled and transferred.
Scenes of lunar calendar festival celebrations and traditional sports are interspersed with Hong Kong’s skyline today, alongside rolling teal waves and azure shadows of mythical stories. Amongst the tapestry is the skilfully included MTR logo as well, which can be spotted beneath the depiction of a blooming lotus.
Where to find it: Lift lobby towards Exit B
Wan Chai: ‘This is Wan Chai’ by Jevan Chowdhury
As the saying goes, “all of life’s a stage,” and here to remind us in our liminal moments of the wonders of the world is this 150-metre stretch titled “This is Wan Chai.” Created as part of the international “Moving Cities” series, the artwork was a joint effort with the Hong Kong Ballet and partners in the U.K. as part of a project to capture world metropolises through the language of dance.
A wholly romantic perspective of our everyday lives, the digital tapestry reimagines the neighbourhood of Wan Chai through the performances of up to 40 dancers from the Hong Kong Ballet and additional cameos from members of the public. The typical ongoings in the streets are given an extra spotlight and serve as a moving backdrop to the literal movements of people flitting in and out the trains every day.
Where to find it: Passageway to the train platform heading towards Kennedy Town
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