Umbrealla Man statue in Hong Kong (Image via Wikimedia)

Umbrella Man statue in Hong Kong (image via Wikimedia)

The protests in Hong Kong and Ferguson, like so many others, were both characterized by a strong presence of artists. In China, dissidents plastered the streets with posters, erected sculptures, installed interactive artworks, and even live-sketched the demonstrations. In Missouri, artists embellished the flimsy plywood boards that had been tacked on shop windows with bright drawings and inspirational slogans.

Members of both communities are now rallying to save these creations. Yesterday, police in Hong Kong dismantled the metal barriers in the central Business District that had protected the Umbrella Movement’s make-shift camp — but not before the Art Preservation Group carried out a last-minute sweep to save as many pamphlets, drawings, paintings, and sculptures as they could. “We will keep them temporarily in our storage and then plan what’s next,” Sampson Wong, of the Umbrella Movement Visual Archives and Research Collective, told The Straits Times.

In Ferguson, the Missouri History Museum and the Regional Art Commission have announced their plans to preserve the plywood paintings made by a group of about 100 artists working through Paint for Peace STL, the Columbia Missourian reported. Speaking with the newspaper, Director of Library and Collections Chris Gordon explained that the museum hopes to collect them for research and a possible exhibit.

Since it wouldn’t be in the true spirit of protest if there weren’t at least a few voices of dissent, not everyone’s on board with preserving these ephemeral but powerful works. In Hong Kong, many museums that were asked to keep some of the artworks rejected them because they were “political.” And in Ferguson, one BBQ joint owner whose business was burned down said this: “It’s not the history you’d want to remember.”

But you only have to browse archives of protest art from the civil rights era and Vietnam War demonstrations (like this one and this one) to see how valuable they are. Preserving modern mementoes of resistance will offer future generations an important window into the discontents of our own.

A mural in Ferguson  (Image via paintforpeacestl/Instagram)

Mural in Ferguson (image via paintforpeacestl/Instagram)


Mural in Ferguson (image via paintforpeacestl/Instagram)

Mural in Ferguson (image via paintforpeacestl/Instagram)

Mural in Ferguson (image via paintforpeacestl/Instagram)

Hong Kong’s “Lennon Wall” (image via Wikimedia)

Hong Kong’s “Lennon Wall” (image via Wikimedia)

Caricatures of pro-establishment figures in Hong Kong (Image via Wikimedia)

Caricatures of pro-establishment figures in Hong Kong (image via Wikimedia)

A patchwork canopy in Hong Kong (Image via Wikimedia)

Patchwork canopy in Hong Kong (image via Wikimedia)

Laura C. Mallonee is a Brooklyn-based writer. She holds an M.A. in Cultural Reporting and Criticism from NYU and a B.F.A. in painting from Missouri State University. She enjoys exploring new cities and...

3 replies on “A Scramble to Save Protest Art, from Ferguson to Hong Kong”

  1. I’m not a big fan of the Google, but they do have the “Open Gallery” web app that allows organizations to make “digital exhibits” out of items of cultural / historical interest.

    It’s not exactly “open” in that one has to request an invitation to use it, but it might be worth looking into:

  2. I have written about this off and on for years in the context of “local history” in Washington DC. Because we don’t have a strong local history museum, this type of material isn’t being systematically collected. This came up in a post on Engaging Places too, to which I replied.

    Note that right now the Museum of the City of New York has a long term exhibit on “local” protest in NYC, funded by the Puffin Foundation, and it is fantastic, addressing historical and contemporary protest issues.

    I wrote about it here:

  3. ONE more thing. While more “fellow traveler” than specific to this issue, the French organization Lieux Publics is an interesting group, devoted to “street art” (an element of protest) and the kind of org. that we don’t seem to have here.

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