These are the images of Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement, now in its fourth week, that have been beamed across the world as tens of thousands in the city advocate for elections to choose their chief executive in 2017 — free from Beijing’s intervention.
But in his sharpest words yet, the city’s current leader, Leung Chun-ying, on Thursday said police will clear all protest sites “at a suitable time” as authorities “cannot allow the occupation…to continue.”
The question then is: When protest sites are cleared, where will the movement’s art go?
Umbrella Man, as he has been dubbed, towers over supporters and visitors just outside Hong Kong’s central government headquarters in Admiralty and is arguably the most famous.
“Of course we want it on this site,” says Lee Cheuk-yan, a Hong Kong legislator and curator of the city’s June 4 Memorial Museum, the world’s first commemorating Beijing’s 1989 crackdown on pro-democracy supporters in the mainland.
Mr. Lee says that it would be best for the umbrella installation to remain in its original location in Admiralty. But if that isn’t feasible, he notes, it could find a home at a local university, as past protest art has.
But the first option, Mr. Lee reiterates, is to keep it where it is so people can pass it each day.
“It should stay here,” agrees Cosmin Costinas, executive director of Para Site, Hong Kong’s first contemporary arts space. “This would be the ideal object and the ideal place to mark that transformation of Hong Kong. We are in the heart of Hong Kong, we’re in front of the government building, and there is no better place for this statue to be installed permanently.”
Steps away from Umbrella Man stands the wall of sticky notes. A yellow banner above it reads ‘Lennon Wall Hong Kong.’ While it might seem more of a challenge to preserve this, “it’s not so difficult and so daunting as it might seem because, of course, contemporary art today employs all sorts of different media, including very perishable ones,” says Para Site’s Mr. Costinas.
The conservation process, he adds, would involve taking down each sticky note, cataloguing its relative location and taking photos of surrounding areas to recreate the installation as accurately as possible elsewhere.
Large banners waving off pedestrian bridges are also well known images from the movement that could be preserved. Famous lyrics from John Lennon flutter in the breeze.
“You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one,” reads the yellow banner tied to the railings of a pedestrian bridge. “Sorry for disturbing you, the future thanks you,” says a long black banner with white-painted words. A third, in Chinese script, simply states, “Hong Kong, add oil,” a Chinese phrase that means something like “keep it up.”
Para Site’s Mr. Costinas says the messages and references in Hong Kong resonate around the world and fit in with past major movements, “from Paris ‘68 to Tiananmen to the Arab Spring to the Ghezi Park protests in Istanbul.”
But even if Hong Kong’s pro-democracy art installations aren’t physically preserved, they will still live on digitally long after the crowds have disappeared.
A Facebook page “Umbrella Creation” curated by university students has been aggregating art related to the movement. One depicts a Buddha and the city of Hong Kong at peace while another echoes the Iwo Jima Memorial of World War II, with people raising a yellow umbrella against a yellow backdrop of falling tear gas canisters.
“I’m absolutely sure that the ‘Umbrella Revolution,’ with its messages and its symbols, will be part of a global set of references,” Mr. Costinas says. “Future movements in other parts of the world will be referring to these banners and these messages created here.”