Street Art: Esther Poon

TAKING IT TO THE STREETS. 

Creative expression comes in all forms and can appear in the most unexpected of places. Riva Hiranand meets four individuals who are turning Hong Kong’s streets into their personal canvas and creating a thriving new art scene across the city. Portrait by Nic Gaunt. 

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Esther Poon just might be Hong Kong’s first celebrity knitter. After we wrap our shoot with the part-time yarn bomber, a middle-aged woman approaches and asks to take a photo with Poon and her colourful crochet work on Pottinger Street. Poon’s work is easily recognisable; her bright, patterned knitting adorns railings, poles and lamp posts around the city and she is often seen installing pieces in her neighbourhood of Sheung Wan. For the artist, meeting and inspiring people is the best part of the job. “People are always rushing around Hong Kong, so it’s nice to chat with people and see them smiling and taking photos with my work,” says Poon after posing with the aforementioned fan, who excitedly examines her photo as she walks away.

Poon, who was born and raised in Hong Kong, has always been an avid knitter (making scarves or clothing for babies and dogs) but only encountered yarn bombing four years ago. Yarn bombing – also known as urban or guerilla knitting – is a form of street art in which crocheted or knitted yarn covers public architecture. Its global popularity can be attributed to Texan artist Magda Sayeg, known worldwide as ‘the mother of yarn bombing,’ who took up the craft in 2005 and has since done large-scale yarn installations around the world. Sayeg came to Hong Kong in 2012 and organised I Knit MK at Langham Place, showcasing a variety of objects covered in colourful knit work by herself and local volunteers, including Poon.

I Knit MK inspired Poon to start yarn bombing, and later that year she covered her first handrail near her home in colourful yarn. “I wanted to promote yarn bombing in Hong Kong. It’s street art, yes, but it’s also a fine art that involves a lot of care, thought and time,” she says. “I was nervous, but I looked for guidelines so I wouldn’t get in trouble.”

Though yarn bombing attracts less criticism, it is still considered a form of graffiti, which is illegal in many countries, including Hong Kong. But unlike other forms of street art, yarn installations can be easily disassembled. “No government cleaners have come to take anything down,” Poon says, breathing a sigh of relief. “But I take them down [at night] and put them back up during the day – they get dirty or torn, which is normal because they’re in the street.” Poon cannot imagine why anyone would object to yarn bombing: “It’s part of the street, but it doesn’t destroy any public facilities. It’s just like putting on clothing.”

Poon’s approach is quite methodical: she scouts an area, measures it, creates the pieces at home, and later assembles them with the help of her 10-person team, which works with her part-time. She teaches fitness classes and works as a personal trainer, then returns home to knit – though she admits it doesn’t take her very long. The bulk of Poon’s knitting is placed around Sheung Wan, though she has work on Pottinger Street and on a railing next to the Fringe Club. She works with the Hong Kong Youth Arts Foundation, which invited her to help with various projects including her largest so far – yarn bombing the Lek Yuen Bridge in Sha Tin last year, in collaboration with students from over 20 schools.

Most recently, Poon has worked alongside nine Hong Kong-based artists to create artwork surrounding H Queen’s, a lifestyle and art tower that will open in mid-2017. She has added a pop of colour to the balustrades along the bottom of Pottinger Street, as well as some playfulness to the construction site with knitting made to look like 3D cubes. “Art has to be diverse,” Poon says. “I don’t want to just have patterns of flowers or animals, so my team and I are coming up with new patterns.”

Poon’s hope is that the craft will continue to grow and that the government will eventually recognise its positive impact on the community. “[Yarn bombing] can beautify the city,” she says. “I want the government to sponsor us or ask us to do projects. Outside of Hong Kong, artists can do this on big bridges – I want it to be the same here, so it becomes legal.”


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