PHOTO STORY: Graffiti Loud and Legal in Taipei

PHOTO STORY: Graffiti Loud and Legal in Taipei
Photo Credit: Olivia Yang/The News Lens
What you need to know

Graffiti artists from around the world have come to this landmark to practice and exhibit.

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Blaring with loud neon lights, LED billboards and the endless clamor of chic teenagers, the crowded Ximending area in central Taipei is a landmark for popular culture in Taiwan. But walking away from the bustling shopping district, the noise starts fading out and within a few minutes, the only inner city area in Taiwan where graffiti is legal lies ahead.

The Taipei Cinema Park, originally Taipei Gas Co., Ltd., was completed in 2001 to create a space that integrates the old factory building with entertainment. It has since been used as a creative and performance venue for youth culture, and is now a popular space for graffiti artists from all around the world to practice and exhibit.

The park is surprisingly quiet, with locals and tourists strolling lazily among the art-laden walls, occasionally stopping to snap a few shots. While graffiti in Taiwan was under large U.S. and European influences in the past, the art is gradually seeing more local elements, such as the indigenous culture, Chinese opera, and traditional Chinese paintings.

Seventeen-year-old Huang Li-chih (黃立志) was working on a piece when The News Lens approached him on the afternoon of Feb. 7. The teenager, wearing loose clothes, rubber gloves and a face mask, was focused on spraying a can of blue paint on the wall in swift movements.

“I’ve been doing graffiti for only five months and just started using spray paint around two months ago,” says Huang, who was working on his third piece in the park.

The graffiti space is managed by the Taipei Alliance for the Advancement of Multi Art Culture Youth Center, and artists are required to submit their work to the team for approval before being allowed to paint on the walls.

Huang says the team mostly looks for complete pieces, and each work is usually given one day to be completed.

“I was very lucky because Jimmy Cheng (鄭子靖), founder of the youth center, accepted my work,” says Huang. “The center provides graffiti artists with a lot of resources. I tried to get a grasp of doing graffiti myself, but couldn’t. It was through talking with the artists here that I gradually got a feel for it.”

Aside from the park, the Taiwan government in 2005 opened “graffiti zones” along certain riverbank sections in Taipei and Taichung. Taipei's Department of Cultural Affairs in 2007 also began permitting graffiti on fences around major public construction sites. While these places are more secluded, and graffiti artists caught working outside of these designated areas face fines up to NT$6,000 (US$190), the penality is said to be relatively low compared to other countries. In Singapore, for example, graffiti artists have faced jail time and caning, and an artist in South Korea was fined 2 million won (US$1,740) in 2011.

“I have heard graffiti artists at the park say that this space is a landmark for doing graffiti, and many artists from other countries do come here,” says Huang. “Even if you don’t have mad skills we give each other advice here and learn from one another.”

While he understands there might be difficulties in management and people could complain about dust from spray paint, Huang still hopes Taiwan can open up more spaces, such as in public parks, for graffiti artists to exhibit their work.

“It will show more people the beauty and history of graffiti art,” says Huang. “And I like doing it because it’s a way to express my existence in this world.”

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Photo Credit: Olivia Yang/The News Lens
17-year-old Huang Li-chih at Taipei Cinema Park.
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Photo Credit: Olivia Yang/The News Lens
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Photo Credit: Olivia Yang/The News Lens
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Photo Credit: Olivia Yang/The News Lens
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Photo Credit: Olivia Yang/The News Lens
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Photo Credit: Olivia Yang/The News Lens
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Photo Credit: Olivia Yang/The News Lens
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Photo Credit: Olivia Yang/The News Lens
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Photo Credit: Olivia Yang/The News Lens
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Photo Credit: Olivia Yang/The News Lens
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Photo Credit: Olivia Yang/The News Lens
The legal graffiti space in Taipei Cinema Park.

Editor: Edward White