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Meet OBSRVR, the Graffiti Artist Behind 'Shark Fin Makes Your Penis Small'
by: Rubin Verebes
April 25, 2022
OBSRVR is one of Hong Kong’s most famous graffiti artists that you have never heard of. But you most definitely have seen his zany and brutal graffiti sketches plastered around town that have cultivated a cult following in recent years.
The John Doe-esque anonymous artist from Hong Kong is distinctly famous from his street sketches that dot post boxes, storefronts, and blank walls, including “Shark Fin Makes Your Penis Small” and “One Day My Sextape Will Matter.”
His graffiti work – or what he calls “random nonsense mostly” – has been found and copied in Hong Kong since 2012, consisting of a series of tags designed as a social commentary and mocking of the innate stupidity found at home and abroad.
Co-signed to the uber-hip Young Soy Gallery, The Beat Asia got access to the story of his art life, what makes “OBSRVR” tick, and the science behind penile shrinkage post-shark fin consumption.
OBSRVR was born in Hong Kong, but was “probably influenced by my previous life,” he told The Beat Asia in a series of answers emailed in total anonymity.
“Without being too revealing, I can say I can't complain about my life; I feel pretty lucky for the experiences I have had and for my family and friends. I grew up in various levels of the middle class.”
His attitude towards his upbringing and status and the devotion to his graffiti work, OBSRVR is humble. “Out of respect for actual graffiti writers who spend time developing style and technique, I wouldn't call what I do graffiti,” he wrote in his anonymous email.
“I would say it’s somewhere between random vandalism and street art,” OBSRVR commented in reference to his tags scribbled all over the 18 districts of Hong Kong. His inspiration initially was sourced from other street artists.
After he started working on the streets in 2012, it was only then did OBSRVR find curiosity in stencil and poster artwork. “When different things started to bother me, and I didn't feel like I had any way of telling people or standing up for what I thought, I started making stickers and stencils of my own to express myself [and my thoughts].”
“Over the last 10 years, I experimented with different styles, techniques, and with content, over time learning more about graffiti and street art culture. I've come to enjoy and respect graffiti culture but find myself too lazy or busy to spend time honing my hand style or spray-painting skills. I would rather scribble some thoughts on a sticker or wall and put it out in the ether.”
His “Eat No Fin,” “I Paid Your Mum In Exposure,” and “Rhino Horn Causes Toenail Penis” tags, among others, are raw, look hastily drawn, and each tell a unique story for what OBSRVR believes in. From his anonymous Instagram and his tags, you may assume correctly he is an anti-shark-fin-soup advocator, does not get Web 3.0 stuff, and loves your mom.
OBSRVR seeks to provoke a different reaction or emotion with every piece that he produces.
“Every piece is different, except when it's not, because I do repeat myself a lot. Most of the time calling it ‘art’ is a bit of a stretch, but it's [more] about communicating something and hopefully making someone laugh while taking notice of whatever it I wrote about.”
He told The Beat Asia that he hasn’t expected any positive nor negative reception upon fans discovering his artwork in Hong Kong, preferring simply to “put it out there and see what happens.”
To him, his art is an experiment to the pedestrian roaming the streets of Hong Kong exploring the tags found in the crevices of sidewalks or drawn in full view in the cityscape. “Some things go completely unnoticed, others get tons of attention, and I would be lying if I said I didn't enjoy when people do notice, but I can't say I have any expectations.”
“I love when I see other people share photos of something I did online, but the best is when someone responds directly, by crossing it out, or replying to it. Those are the best.”
Hs more famous pieces come in the form of anti-shark fin statements, phrases about his potential sex tape release, and talking about your mother in reference to her NFT collection, of which tags can be snapped throughout the streets of Hong Kong.
“When it comes to shark fin statements and similar things, I would love it if it had some impact on the collective consciousness. Maybe if I write it enough, and it makes enough people laugh, it might stick in their heads, and start to reshape the collective perception of shark fin from a luxury delicacy to a joke you feel stupid eating; it's a big wish, and certainly not expected, but something to aim for.”
OBSRVR explains that the “shark fin shrinking your penis” joke was a matter that bothered him, commenting on the pointlessness of shark fin soup. His creation of arguably Hong Kong’s most famous graffiti tag was aimed at combating the stupidity of championing the “archaic relic from a dumber era.”
“[Shark fin soup] is a propped-up cultural legacy of implying wealth by eating and serving flavourless appendages, cut from live animals to ‘friends’ and relatives whose respect you think can be purchased. You can’t combat that kind of stupid with truth,” he says, “only with more stupid, comedy and a bit of shame.”
In reference to his “One Day My Sextape Will Matter” tag, OBSRVR genuinely hopes one day his sex tape will matter.
“Like a lot of the stuff I write, it comes quick, sometimes drunk, and usually inspired by something I think is ridiculous. In this case, it was a random realisation of how absurd fame can be. A person can be so famous that another person can get rich from selling the first person's sex tape; and people covet this fame.”
And why “Ur Mom is Non-Fungible"? OBSRVR told The Beat Asia that his recently popular tag takes aim at the world’s “latest buzz word everyone is throwing around” and attempting to act unique in.
“With so much hype around NFTs, most of it just people trying to get rich quick, regurgitating the same pitch over and over, to prey on people's FOMO and sell them expensive JPEGS, all I can hear in my head when I get one of these pitches, is Kip, Napolean Dynamite's brother, saying ‘your mom is non-fungible.’”
“That's not to say I am anti-NFT or anything, but there is a ton of garbage out there; some very cool stuff too, and the technology will probably lead to something actually useful one day.”
Featured prominently in his first live public exhibition, “Nothing to See Here,” held at Young Soy Gallery in November 2021, OBSVR sought to use the gallery opportunity and hype about his NFT tag to learn more about the Web 3.0 element and go through the process of creating his own NFTs.
In reference to his relationship with Young Soy Gallery, Hong Kong’s youthful contemporary art gallery composed of local artists founded by Shivang Jhunjhnuwala and Alexander Glavatsky-Yeadon, OBSRVR says “he really respects what they’re doing, great guys who work really hard.”
“They got in touch last year and asked if I ever considered making studio or exhibition work. I was open to the idea but hadn't put much thought into it previously. They were keen to show some [of my] pieces at the Affordable Art Fair, which went pretty well, leading to my solo show at their space later on.
“The latter was a lot of pressure, but I think it turned out well and I'm grateful they gave me those opportunities. Hopefully, I'll have some new work to show with them later this year.”
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