By LUXE City Guides
Hong Kong is famous for its grand-slam dining, shopping and megawatt entertainment, but in recent years, the city has also re-discovered its cultural soul. The development of attractions such as heritage compound Police Married Quarters (PMQ) and the modern, architectural home to Cantonese opera, Xiqu Centre, part of West Kowloon Cultural District are among a slew of revitalised and new cultural projects opening across the city.
Stealing the limelight when it opened in 2018 was heritage-arts venue Tai Kwun. Occupying a large pocket of land in the middle of Central’s SoHo district, the imposing 19th-century precinct was once the judicial heart of Hong Kong; today it is host to 16 revitalised heritage buildings, including the Victorian Central Police Station, Central Magistracy and Victoria Prison, juxtaposed by the contemporary Herzog and de Meuron-designed JC Contemporary and JC Cube.
Visitors to Tai Kwun can get a glimpse of the late 19th and early-20th century life in Hong Kong through the painfully restored heritage buildings and large courtyards, which can be visited independently or as one of the organised tours. One of the most popular sections of the compound are the tiny, cramped cells which imprisoned thousands of people – many of whom were refugees. The careful restoration and addition of interactive exhibits make for an atmospheric and informative encounter.
But Tai Kwun offers more than just a tiptoe back in time. Alongside the heritage, visitors can enjoy an eclectic mix of visual arts, music and theatre performances, film screenings and educational programs, with a sprinkling of late-night openings, free lunchtime concerts and a stellar lineup of bars and restaurants – there really is nowhere else quite like it in the city. But why take our word for it? Read on to find out more from those who have connected with the project, from art curators and artists to visitors both local and global – and discover why you too should Tai Kwun – go!
Contemporary artist, performer and director Enoch was commissioned to contribute an interactive audio-walk to the Contagious Cities: Far Away, Too Close exhibition about cities and the history of epidemics hosted by Tai Kwun earlier this year.
“People are attracted by Tai Kwun’s history as well as its novelty and my work invited people to participate and engage with the space – it took them around different places in the precinct. It’s exciting and challenging for an artist to consider an audience with diverse backgrounds and an opportunity to instantly connect with people – whether they are regular art goers or not. I had to work around the specific nature of Tai Kwun; there is a multi-layered history embedded in the venue, be it the stone wall, the prison, the laundry steps, so I used all these unique qualities as the key elements for people to experience it.
I first heard about Tai Kwun many years ago, when I was a program manager at Asia Art Archive and I was, and am excited about the potential of the venue. It’s stood in Hong Kong since the 1800s; it’s witnessed so many changes and there are so many stories that can be told and retold. This is fascinating, and creates an opportunity for people, both from Hong Kong and overseas to reflect on the city.”
Independent curator Ying Kwok is renowned for her inventive, collaborative approach, and has held positions in cities as diverse as Manchester UK, Gdansk and New York – she was also the curator of the Hong Kong Pavilion at The 57th Venice Biennale in 2017. More recently, Ying was invited by Tai Kwun and the Wellcome Trust UK to curate the Contagious Cities: Far Away, Too Close exhibition.
“For Contagious Cities, I took into account the different character and history of the various parts of Tai Kwun, as well as the materials and content of the artists commissioned, to create a contemporary piece of work. As an example, one of the artists (Enoch Cheng) created a sound walk; we offered an audio device with music and narrative which took the audience to six different spots within the venue, each with distinctive character.
A lot of the time in the visual arts we’re thinking about how to best promote exhibitions so they appeal to a wider audience. Those who are interested in culture and art will always come, but it’s hard to get the wider community through the door. But at Tai Kwun it’s the opposite; there are so many people who visit the space, and who then also visited the exhibition.
It seems that many people – including friends who come to visit and the tourists we talked to – had heard about Tai Kwun before they visited. As well as the heritage buildings, I think JC Contemporary is a really beautiful museum in which to see contemporary arts; it’s definitely a great thing for Hong Kong.”
“I’ve been to Tai Kwun before and I’m here now with friends who are visiting. Although I live overseas, I come to Hong Kong every year and have seen its transformation – it’s well-preserved, informative and clean. It’s quite surprising when you come in from Hollywood Road as it has this open space and doesn’t look or feel like a prison!”
“I always like how in Hong Kong the old meets new and I came to Tai Kwun after reading that it’s one of the ‘top 50 things to do in Hong Kong’. A lot of what you find here is modern and Hong Kong is seen as a modern city, so it’s nice to see a bit of history. I like the buildings, the colonial architecture is really pretty; it’s classic and also vibrant with the open area in the middle.”
(Erika, far right)
“This is my fourth visit to Tai Kwun, I had seen it being renovated and now I always bring visitors here. Initially I didn’t know what to expect and was surprised because of the contrast between the colonial and modern buildings – it’s unique and I love that! The atmosphere changes depending on which building you’re in; at the front it’s very relaxing, the prison area is sad, the modern spaces are arty – it’s a sum of very different parts and I like the fusion. I think prisons are interesting; it’s history, hard history, true history but history and it’s good that people get to see this side of Hong Kong. I suggest taking your time as there’s so much to see; when you allow time, it’s easy to explore.”
- 10 Hollywood Road, Central, Hong Kong Island
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