Gallery to street: Agnès b. ‘Far East Far West’ graffiti exhibition takes it outside

Agnès b. celebrates 20 years in Hong Kong with the ‘Far East Far West Graffiti Hub Exhibition’, which spills out into its surrounding neighborhood with the help of HKwalls.


Hong Kong Street Art 

Street art has been having a moment for awhile in Hong Kong. With the takeoff of HKwalls, Hong Kong’s once fledgling street art scene has evolved to produce some world-class artists that can hang with the best of them. Meanwhile, the art world has slowly come to recognize the quality of Hong Kong’s homegrown talent in a handful of ‘street art’ themed exhibitions, although a guided outdoor component for newly created pieces has been regrettably missing. A public element undoubtedly helps a gallery offering of ‘street art’ work – otherwise, it risks stripping the art of its integral meaning as both visual signpost and indicator of placefulness. Therein lies the challenge– how can an upstanding gallery exhibit a broad selection of freshly created urban artworks in situ throughout the community, as they are meant to be seen? With the help of HKwalls, the brilliant not-for-profit organization dedicated to bringing art to Hong Kong’s public spaces, Agnès b. has done just that.

Philippe Baudelocque at Shin Hing Street, Sheung Wan, Hong Kong. Image courtesy of Agnès b.

Agnès b., grand dame of the French fashion world with an international network of self-named lifestyle boutiques, has long nurtured a special appreciation for street art. Agnès b. representative Marine Delveno shares, “She has always supported the graffiti scene. She started in the 80’s, when no one wanted to show this kind of art in a gallery. [It] makes sense to do a graffiti show to commemorate her 20th anniversary… It’s her thing and her main theme this year.” The design mastermind is also running two street art exhibitions concurrently in Paris through October, and opens the notable ‘Far East Far West’ Graffiti Hub Exhibition at the Agnès b. Librairie Galerie in Hong Kong on Friday, September 25th, 2015.

Caratoes with her creation on Gough Street, Hong Kong. Image courtesy of Agnès b.

So what makes ‘Far East Far West’ in Hong Kong so special? Simply put, there has been a monumental effort (thanks, HKwalls!) to source outdoor spaces from private property owners to create an extension of the gallery into the local neighborhood. Although it might seem volunteering one’s property to an art show is a savvy community-oriented decision, there is a catch that gives pause many– creative control. Resolving the contradiction of the artist’s desire for creative freedom and the practical needs of many different business owners is no easy task, which is likely why it’s never before been done by a gallery in Hong Kong. It’s an exquisitely complicated show to do– yet undeterred, Agnès b. has turned Hong Kong’s Central streets into a curated selection of her personal vision, complete (of course) with a handy walking map.

Parent’s Parents on Aberdeen Street, Hong Kong. Image courtesy of Agnès b.
Lek & Sowat on Mee Lun Street, Hong Kong. Image courtesy of Agnès b.

Agnès, always the curator of the shows displayed in her gallery empire, personally selected the 8 exhibited artists for ‘Far East Far West’. Five are based in Hong Kong (SINIC, the Parent’s Parents collective, Barlo, Wais, and Caratoes) and 3 are overseas champions of their craft (Philippe Baudelocque and Lek & Sowat from France, and Cleon Peterson hailing from Los Angeles in the United States). Notably, this is the first time for each of the overseas artists to visit Hong Kong and have their work shown in Asia. What draws the artists together is a practice of nontraditional street art style– these are not painters of usual urban concepts, bubble letters, or reminiscing of hip hop. The works are figurative painterly and abstract graphic pieces that would normally be viewed on a canvas within a controlled setting, but are instead disorientingly on the side of a building. Rather than taking art from the streets and placing it in the gallery, art from the gallery has been set loose on the neighborhood.

Wais for Agnès b. on Gough Street, Hong Kong. Image courtesy Agnès b.
SINIC for Agnés b. in Hong Kong. Image courtesy of Agnés b.

There are natural complications with an art show that involves outside stakeholders– those whose property literally becomes the art. Agnès b. representative Marine Delveno explains:

“HKwalls got the authorizations, contacting many owners in the area. It’s been difficult because all the owners asked for sketches prior to the confirmation and the artists usually do not work this way. We tried not to offend anyone but it’s been a lot of back and forth emails to confirm the sketches since the owners asked to change the art most of the time, according to their own tastes and to what’s accepted or not by the society… For instance, violent content is prohibited kind of… Finally we got more walls once the artists arrived, because other owners saw them paint in the street and liked it, and it’s also easier when people really meet and talk. Then they can share, communicate and get along, that’s how more opportunities come up.”

Cleon Peterson for Agnès b. in Hong Kong. Image courtesy of Agnès b.

With ‘violent content’ perceived as potentially taboo, the work of Cleon Peterson, which explores the dark side of human nature, conflict, and power relationships, presented a particular challenge in finding appropriate outdoor display space. However, property owners were eventually won over by his artistry despite heavier subject matter. Peterson says:

“Getting permission to paint the spaces has been difficult. I think people see graffiti as vandalism and not art. I hope that our work can change this perspective. That being said the people that did grant us spaces to paint in have been amazing and are really acting as cultural pioneers… I think when art is at its best it opens minds and lets people share and experience different perspectives of their worlds. Because we’re working with the city as our canvas it is in a way our partner in the art. It’s our culture mixing with Hong Kong’s culture. It’s very exciting and I can’t wait to see how people here live with the work.”

Cleon Peterson for Agnès b. in Hong Kong. Image courtesy of Agnès b.

Perhaps an acceptance of more challenging content like Peterson’s in the public space is an indicator that Hong Kong has grown up a bit in its tastes. Life isn’t all cute rubber duckies, and the more sophisticated palette for contemporary art will reflect such a balanced outlook. Either way, it is a boon for Hong Kong to have such a well-organized showing of street art in the public space. Life goes on, and the love goes on.

You can check out the ‘Far East Far West’ Graffiti Hub Exhibition at the Agnès b. Librairie Galerie in Hong Kong and throughout the surrounding neighborhood.

Agnès b. Librairie Galerie
118 Hollywood Road, G/F
Central, Hong Kong

Opens Friday, September 25th, 7pm. On from September 26, 2015 – January 2, 2016

Erin Wooters Yip


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Follow @Urban_DNA on Instagram for a running feed of Hong Kong street art.









‘HKwalls’ Street Art Festival Coming to Sheung Wan – Offer Artists Your Wall Space! -Interview

In the first-ever event of its kind in Hong Kong, HKwalls will enhance outdoor wall spaces in the Sheung Wan district with the painted works of celebrated urban contemporary artists from May 12-18. Property owners may offer their wall for inclusion in the event.

‘HKwalls’ Street Art Festival, May 12-18, Sheung Wan, Hong Kong

In the first-ever event of its kind in Hong Kong, HKwalls will enhance outdoor wall spaces in the Sheung Wan district with the painted works of celebrated urban contemporary artists. The street art festival event will take place from May 12-18 during the busiest week of the year in Hong Kong’s jam-packed art calendar, coinciding with the city’s second inaugural Art Basel fair and its surrounding plethora of satellite art events. Thus far HKwalls has secured permission for artists to paint upon at least 9 walls in the Sheung Wan area, although organizers are still actively seeking additional property owners who are interested in featuring their wall space in this community art event.

While HKwalls is a unique event of its kind within Hong Kong, such a street art festival is certainly not a new concept on the international contemporary art scene. This writer has recently had the privilege of viewing in person the freshly painted artworks from a similar event, PUBLIC, which was sponsored and organized by the City of Perth in Western Australia and took place from April 5-13, 2014. While PUBLIC surely made the laneways of Perth a more visually stimulating place, the city administrators were also aiming to raise the status of Perth on the global creative map. The website for the City of Perth writes that the event aspires to “place Perth as an emerging international street art hotspot, alongside cities such as Bristol, New York, Miami, Barcelona and Buenos Aires; cities that are well-known for the impact of using art to enrich and empower the lives of its people.”


HKwalls is led in part by Jason Dembski, a designer and professor at the University of Saint Joseph in Macau, who also maintains an online archive of Hong Kong street art at UrbanDNA caught up with Jason to learn more about HKwalls and how property owners can include their outdoor Sheung Wan wall spaces in the event, thereby transforming (at no charge!) ordinary, publicly visible surfaces into vibrant works of contemporary art for the enhancement of their surrounding neighborhood.

What is HKwalls? Can you describe how this initiative has come about? 

HKwalls is a week long street art festival which takes place during Art Basel HK, from May 12-18. While Art Basel in Miami has become a great success, there’s nothing really interesting happening on the streets of Hong Kong during the week of Art Basel, so we thought we would try and make something happen at the ground level. We also chose the Art Basel week because we hope that it will attract some artists from overseas who can get involved.

Is HKwalls related to or inspired by any particular international street art festival or initiative that has recently enhanced another city? 

Wynwood Walls in Miami, Pow Wow Hawaii, etc.


Who are the participating street artists for HKwalls, and where are they from?

This year most artists are based in Hong Kong and we have 1 or 2 who are visiting for Art Basel but in the future we would like to have more of a 50/50 balance and create more collaborations between Hong Kong artists and those from overseas.  A preliminary list for this year can be found at

How were the participating street artists chosen?

It was not always simple, but generally we made a few lists of artists based on what they do, asked some of those artists for other recommendations we might have missed, and discussed them further within our team and the wall owners.

What kind of content will the artists be painting? Who has creative control over the final work upon a wall? 

We do not control what the artist paints at all except that it shouldn’t contain anything intentionally offensive. Being the first year, the theme for the event is metamorphosis, eluding to the transformation the walls will undergo, but the artists are free to take as much or as little inspiration from this as they like. We are also considering a unified color palette across the walls.

HKwalls is seeking additional outdoor walls for the artists to paint upon. What kind of walls are desirable for this initiative?

Any large exterior visible to the public which is located in the area around Blake Garden (Tai On Terrace, Po Hing Fong, Tai Ping Shan, Pound Lane, Square Street, Sai Street, etc).. It’s important that the owner understands that we have to give full creativity to the artist and let them paint what they want, because normally it would be a commissioned piece if the content is controlled by someone else.

What kinds of walls qualify? Must they be privately owned for permission to be properly given for participation in the project? 

They don’t have to be privately owned but at least they should have the right to have it painted without causing any legal issues.

Can you describe the initial community response to the project? 

So far so good. Within the local art scene it’s been super positive, but getting walls to paint isn’t always easy.  Because nothing has been done like this in Hong Kong before, many people are reluctant to give us their walls, and because there’s limited space, we haven’t been able include everyone we would have liked. But we are hoping this will pave the way for a bigger HKwalls event next year.

Will spectators be encouraged to watch artists as they paint?

For sure. Please come and enjoy the week out here with us. It’s not that often you can enjoy this many artists doing live art in Hong Kong, and the plan is to have a final block party/celebration of the work on the 18th.  Things are still coming together though, so watch the website for details.

How long are the murals anticipated to remain after the event? 

Hopefully till next year.

How can property owners get involved and include their wall in the event? 

Please hit us up at


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Follow UrbanDNA @erinwoot on Instagram for a running feed of Hong Kong street art