Art has played a role in the Umbrella Movement since day one, from public art installations like Stand By You: ‘Add Oil’ Machine to a Facebook competition to design the movement’s logo. Less well-known are two urban sketching groups which, armed with pen and paper, have been doing their best to document the protests.
Both Urban Sketchers Hong Kong (USHK) and Sketcher-Kee were formed in 2013 with the goal of preserving in ink the city’s ever-evolving urban environment. Today its members are camped out in the Causeway Bay, Admiralty, and Mong Kok areas of Hong Kong, posting expressive drawings of that same landscape over-run by umbrellas, yellow ribbons, and students demanding political freedom. Their work is risky; a recent post by USHK co-founder Alvin Wong on the group’s Facebook page advised members to “get a sketch buddy” and to sit near a wall so “no one can surprise you from behind.”
For Wong, the risk is well worth it if it means witnessing what he described in an email to Hyperallergic as “the biggest pro-democracy protest in Hong Kong history.” He said the reason he sketches is because taking a snapshot simply doesn’t allow for the same understanding of his subject. “To me, [sketching] is a form of meditation, and [it] also allows me to observe carefully in details what the people are trying achieve in this movement.”
While photographs of the demonstrations are extremely valuable, there’s something indispensable about these drawings. The sheer dedication involved in sketching a scene in lieu of taking a picture suggests the artists themselves have a stake in what they’re depicting. Their images are rich with human warmth, offering not just a close-up of history-in-the-making, but also an invitation to understand the hopes and fears that first drove the demonstrators to central Hong Kong.
“We want to use our ability to make awareness for the public, to share our observations, experiences, and thoughts via the Internet to the world,” explained Wong Suede of Sketcher-Kee. “We hope we can support and encourage the protesters who are fighting for Hong Kong … since we are also protestors, we hope it may [achieve something] for the whole movement.
Here’s a selection of their sketches.