By Jonathan Evans
Photo Credits: Louis Li / Amy Wong
The Pearl Delta region is no stranger to the global trend for street art. But while streets all around neighbouring Hong Kong have been spattered with the work of muralists in recent years, Macau – with its eclectic low-rise architecture, mosaic-enlivened cobblestone paving, lightly toned city walls and burgeoning hipster culture – is particularly well suited to the nuances of the art form. Anyone wanting to size up the contribution of street artists to the contemporary image of the city needs to walk no further than the back roads of peninsular Macau, or the walkways around Taipa’s commercial centre, to discover that the medium is represented as vibrantly here as anywhere else in Asia.
From the airport, you can start your street-art journey in nearby Taipa Village, one of Macau’s hippest quarters, and 10 Rua dos Clerigos, the home of Taipa Village Art Space. As a centre that specifically exists to promote Macau’s cultural and creative industries, it’s appropriate that the box-like exterior of the building resembles an artwork in itself: a monochrome façade with large lettering that proclaims the venue’s name, and impressive portraiture on its flank depicting a figure whose face paint resembles David Bowie’s Aladdin Sane character. While many other murals are daubed along this strip, it’s the celebrated food street, Rua do Cunha, where real street-art aficionados should head – most notably for the eccentric, four-storey souvenir store Cunha Bazaar, the unofficial home of Macau’s celebrated Soda Panda. The outlet’s yellow exterior is decorated from top to bottom with distinctively local imagery that portrays city residents and Macau street scenes.
At the junction of Rua do Cunha and Rua dos Clerigos there’s a scary character painted by Macanese artist MCZ, which interacts with the built environment whenever the door at its centre is opened; the same muralist has another seemingly three-dimensional artwork on the wall of Café Veng Kei. You may conclude your Taipa art journey at the corner of Calcada do Quartel, where a loveable mural featuring two giant robots – by Chinese artist Sik – illuminates the wall of a townhouse.
Up in northern Macau, there’s one especially fertile spot for street art: the streetscapes around Praca Ponte e Horta, which hosted the Outloud Street Art Festival in 2017 – and most especially Rua do Bocage, which opens out onto the community park. Here, bold artworks in vivid colours testify to the increasingly adventurous spirit of Macau’s street art. You don’t need to closely examine Chinese artist Vance’s skilful portrait of a transparent dog, with its skeleton visible, to realise these imaginative works are far more than mere graffiti.
As if to underline how widely Macau casts its net to find creative inspiration, Vance’s canine is sandwiched between witty designs by Singaporean and Thai artists (Song and Mauy respectively), while to its right there’s a pixellated abstract work by Hong Kong’s Xeme. In this area you’ll also find a showcase for the Macanese street-art collective Gantz5, whose works are on view all around the city; check their site-specific daubing at the junction of Rua do Pai Kok and Rua do Regedor. Nearby, you can size up witty and wacky pieces by artists from the US, Thailand, Taiwan, mainland China and Hong Kong; two of the most beautiful designs come from Portuguese supremo Vhils (a prolific artist in this city), with his distinctive chipped-concrete style, and Korea’s Royyal Dog, whose stunning profile of a young girl facing away from the street decorates the junction of Rua do Tesuoro. Calcada do Ampero’s Instagram-fêted thoroughfare, a home to many sought-after boutiques, also flaunts its share of expressive street art – most visibly at the vine-strewn alleyway of Patio de Chon Sau.
One of the defining characteristics of street art in densely populated, space-restricted Macau is the resourcefulness of its protagonists in finding ways to express their creativity even in the tiniest spaces. It’s not uncommon to find street furniture such as electrical boxes decked in colourful designs, while along the streets leading towards the Camoes Garden – which are increasingly becoming a hipster epicentre with their street markets, arty stores and boutique culture – there are murals hidden away in the tiny alleyways. It’s clear that this artform is developing at a rapid rate in the city, and it’s heartening to see that the efforts of local artists are among the very best on display. For proof, visit Edificio Nga Keng, near the Ruins of St Paul’s, where an elephant design by Macanese artist PIBG decorates a playground wall opposite the building.
Street art of another sort dazzles the city every December, when the Macau Light Festival brings creative verve in illuminated form to the city. One of the most impressive features of the festival is its extensive reach; last year’s edition lit up spaces all the way from Senado Square to Camoes Garden and Taipa-Houses Museum, in a range of imaginative and interactive installations that literally threw new light on public spaces in the city. It’s further evidence that Macau, having switched its tourist focus away from gambling in recent years, is increasingly relying on its creative industries as a way of marketing the city both to locals and foreign visitors.