A first hand impression of the HK Umbrella Movement 2014
Introduction: A Collection of Raw Images
I was visited by an overseas couple on October 28, exactly one month after the day of tear gas, a Hong Kong scene that shocked the world. The man was my university friend. I accompanied them to the occupied zone in Admiralty. After that, I showed them my sketch book to let them have some idea about what had happened before their arrival. I didn't know how they felt at that time – it was just a few hours after their 16-hour long flight from New York. But I have to say, flipping through the pages of my sketch book, I myself felt the rawness of the images.
Up to that time, I had already had nearly one hundred sketches of the Occupy movement, about 70 in that sketch book. I started them on September 27, a day before the tear gas struck. On that day, I was invited (better said enlisted) by a group of cartoonists, the Comic Daemons, to make cartoons or sketches of people in a shopping district. Their intention was to arouse public awareness, through a day of street art, about the anticipated action of occupying Central, Hong Kong's central business district, to protest the government's deceitful political reform plan. The unannounced target day of the action was October 1, the National Day of the People's Republic of China (PRC), because, as known by all, Hong Kong's political reform was in fact hampered by the PRC regime.
I am not a cartoonist, but I took part in the Comic Daemons' exhibitions in support of their effort to promote democratic reforms in Hong Kong. I do brush-and-ink painting and woodcuts. Joining their cartoon exhibitions, I could only make some cartoon-like pieces for show. On the day of street art, I was enlisted to do a two-hour session together with other cartoonists, but I did hardly more than one and half. Unlike the others there, I was relatively slow, completing about a dozen sketches in my own session. All of them were given away on the spot, except two. One of them happened to be the sketch of the cartoonist Zunzi and a common friend of ours. In its raw state, the sketch was no more than a few pencil lines. I gave it a retouch with felt-tipped marker later in my studio.
It was the September 27 drawing session on the street that gave me the idea to make sketches for what would happen later on. In that evening, I brought along my sketch book to a rally outside the Government Headquarters in Admiralty. However, I found it was too dark and too crowded for me to work there with my sketch book. And, I must admit, the atmosphere was too tense. So, I only took a few photos that night.
On the next day, I went to the rally in Admiralty again. It was bright enough during daytime, but I could jot just a few pencil lines on several sheets and left everything unfinished. Later, when I was out on Harcourt Road among thousands of protesters, I found most of them were preparing for the possible actions of the police. I was too nervous to take my sketch book out again from my backpack. Soon, the first round of tear gas came. Then came the second and the third round. That night, after several rounds of tear gas, I went back to my studio at midnight to work from the photos. I had a sleepless night, working until noon the next day.
Things went better for me after the day of tear gas. I could visit the occupied zones and do sketches at ease. To save time, I tried to draw on the spot very brief outlines of what caught my attention with a pencil and took a photo for detail. The unfinished part was left to be done later. Within a week, I found my old sketch book, some 120 sheets, two thirds blank before the day of tear gas, almost completely full. I also found I had failed to catch up with what I saw even though I worked non-stop days and nights. I had so little sleep that I was totally exhausted. Thereafter, I resorted to record what I saw with my camera and do sketches at a slower pace.
This book is a collection of nearly all the sketches I did in a period of less than two months, from September 27 to the moment the police were about to clear the occupied zone in Mongkok. They are all raw images of what I had seen before and on the day of tear gas, and later on, in the three occupied zones in Admiralty (outside the Government Headquarters), Causeway Bay (Hennessy Road) and Mongkok (Nathan Road).
I have thought of turning some sketches into brush-and-ink paintings or woodcuts, but some friends encouraged me to put the raw images together to make a book. Knowing that financial support for this book project was essential, some of them even agreed to order in advance and in bulk. My heartfelt thanks to them.
I have also thought of doing a more complete book of sketches covering later dates, but friends strongly believed that I should not wait: “Do it now! And a supplement later.”
By the time I compiled this book, the Occupy movement was still on-going. When I was drafting this introduction, the police were trying, badly, to take control of Mongkok, clearing roads by charging crowds and making forceful arrests.
Of the 139 sketches printed in this volume, about half were done in an A4-size (21 cm x 29 cm) sketch book, the other half on A3-size (30 cm x 42 cm) water-colour paper. The media used were pencil and felt marker (sign pen). Colour was added later with colour pencil - and also crayon when I ran out of yellow (the iconic colour of the HK Umbrella Movement/Revolution).
Having worked as a journalist, I decided that I should make a narrative by telling the five Ws: what, when, where, how and why. Therefore, the sketches are dated by the day the scene was captured, with its location specified. The short captions, I hope, can be strung together and read as a sequential story.
So, here they are, the raw images of what I have seen over the past two months. I would like to dedicate this collection to the new generation of Hongkongers who are fighting for their future.
November 28, 2014