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Behind the Secret Walls of Hong Kong’s Street Art

The first rule of Secret Walls is …

We all know the iconic line from Fight Club, the movie that gave us adrenaline-pumped men pounding the life out of each other in some dark underground warehouse – and Brad Pitt’s abs. Well, now imagine that aggression with acrylic paint and a giant canvas, and you’ve pretty much got Secret Walls x Havaianas... just substitute some boxer flashing for that washboard.

The series of live street art battles kicks off Friday night with a Qualifier that sees eight of the hottest names on the Hong Kong block go head-to-head in 60-minute combats across a blank eight-by-eight-foot wall.

This not-so-secret event has a lot in common with that brutal movie. What started as a small, intimate shindig back in 2006 in a tiny bar in East London, has now spread across the globe, shining a spotlight on artists in major cities including NYC, London, Lisbon, Berlin, Tokyo, Copenhagen, Dublin, and Amsterdam and of course, Hong Kong.

Battles are set up and promoted through word of mouth and social media, and come with their own set of rules – only black and white markers and paint can be used, no sketches are used as reference – and a buzzing crowd to win over. And while bare-knuckle punches are replaced with bags of artistic talent and tones of wit, it does – as we learned when chatting to last year’s runner-up artist, Szabotage – get personal.

“Last year I flashed my pants to the crowd,” the award-winning interior designer and architect told us. “The guy I was up against was called Alex Wong, so when I pulled my trousers down my boxers said SO WONG. It’s supposed to be a battle so I like to throw in a bit of gentle piss-taking. I might not be able to out-draw my opponent but I can outwit them.”

Hailing from the contemporary art hotbed of Shoreditch in London, Szabotage moved to Hong Kong over a year ago to depict his vision of this unique city through art, fusing East and West. He tells us that historically in the UK and Europe, street artists use more of an attack approach, which may explain his witty tactics during Secret Walls.

“I like to research my opponent before the battle so I can build a story around them in my work. It helps me to win over the audience by showing them my humour and keeping them entertained. Last year I was up against an artist who was quite a small guy in appearance so on my wall I drew him packaged up as a boy-band doll complete with his own art equipment and ladder. He looked over at my picture and knew I had him. It’s all done in good humour of course, but it does pay to do your homework.”

If last year is anything to go by the Havaianas Secret Walls should be just as exciting, if not more, especially as Szabotage is making a cheeky comeback. So what can we expect from the trickster this time round? “Well I don’t know who I’m up against yet, so I can’t say. But I hope I find out soon so I can do my homework. Whatever happens though, I’m just happy to be involved with the event and gain exposure. That’s what Walls is all about, giving artists, especially local ones, the opportunity to be seen and get themselves on the scene.”

Well, we certainly can’t wait for the battle to begin. Catch Szabotage in action at the Qualifier this Friday at Backstage in Central (doors open a 7.30pm) and check out his work on Instagram and Facebook.

The Semi-Final will be held on June 12, and the Final on July 3.

Good luck Szabo!


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