Secret Walls x Havaianas

This event has passed
May 15

On Friday May 15, at Backstage Live, Secret Walls graffiti artists team up with Havaianas for a live art battle accompanied by a raft of vinyl tunes. Alice McKay finds out more...

The appetite for street art can be seen all over Hong Kong, with murals popping up on walls and shopfronts, and one-off commissions from time-to-time too. Hong Kong’s emerging scene is in no small part thanks to organisations like Secret Walls, a group which brings live art battles with wicked music from local DJs to our city. It’s a format that started back in 2006 in a small bar in East London – but one that former New York-but-now-Hong Kong street artist Stern Rockwell deemed commonplace in his home town among his friends. He says they would ‘sketch together in a friendly battle’ while they listened to music.

Stern Rockwell
Stern Rockwell

Rockwell and a host of other street artists are ‘doing battle’ at Backstage Live on Friday May 15, thanks to Secret Walls, which now hosts ‘battles’ in every major city. The group’s presence basically offers artists an international stage to share their work. This season, the team has joined forces with renowned Brazilian sandal maker Havaianas for another series of live art events, kicking off on Friday. The new sponsorship tie-up has enabled the format to be spiced up, with multiple battles at a smaller number of events, all on Friday evenings.

Louisa Haining, who’s taking care of business for Secret Walls in Hong Kong this year, says she’s looking forward to the event. She says: “There are some really established artists now in Hong Kong, many who competed in ‘series one’ (this year sees ‘series three’ taking place). We are just trying to add to that pool and give up-and-coming artists a chance to show people their stuff and compete in an interactive battle.” Haining says she hope it helps to ‘raise the perceived profile of street art in Hong Kong’. “Hopefully, we will see more of our artists going abroad, like we currently see international artists coming out to Hong Kong. Parentsparent are currently in France and Bao, a competitor in this year’s series, has the opportunity to go to a festival in the UK, if she can raise the sponsorship.”

The artists competing in this third series of Secret Walls are reinterpreting trends and transcending the boundaries traditionally associated with graffiti and street art, putting up some of the most imaginative and cutting-edge art out there. Their stories enlighten and inspire, introducing new perspectives and ideas to both street culture and contemporary art practices, so let’s get behind it and spill some paint! They use marker pens and black paint to make their mark on huge seven-by-four-feet walls. This is a concern for many of the artists who have never produced work so big, in 60 minutes, and in front of a huge crowd.

Jay Pelmet

Jay Pelmet, who helped judge ‘series two’, is also at the event on Friday. He is a fine artist and has been embracing time constraints through his life drawings. He’s also a noted supporter of the art scene in Hong Kong and, through the Clockenflap festival, has seen firsthand how our local talent stands up on an international scale. “Sometimes it takes us by surprise,” he says, “and we are like ‘oh yeah, we don’t really have a chance to stand back and look at the whole thing when we have people coming from overseas and they are blown away’.”

Very Masa

Very Masa, who is Japanese but has lived in Australia and Hong Kong, recognises the break that Secret Walls has given local artists through exposure. Masa is at the event this week too and says there’s more talent than ever before on show this year. “When you’re an expat,” says Masa, “people expect that you are good, simply because you’re a foreigner. I have friends on both sides, local and expats, who do art. The two rarely mix – and it needs to be connected. Local people think expats are better. They need to give themselves a break. StartFromZero and Parentsparent are doing really well. It’s important to support them. They deserve it.”

Very Masa continues: “There is so much local talent but all you see is the same artists. That's a HK problem. If you look at architect firms, Norman Foster gets the big job to design the airport and not a local architect. So, to fix that, we need to fix the mentality of people who are enlisting these services or help the artists to represent themselves.”


Enter Bao. She was given a wall at a recent festival and she smashed it. She is the series’ hot contender – the one who is making the pens shake. She’s keeping it simple too. “I don’t know much about my work sometimes,” she says, “I just let the pen flow. I didn’t study art. Maybe that’s why I have no rules for my work. When people ask me about my painting, I can’t really answer them as I’m just doing what I like to do.”


Another female artist in the competition on Friday is FoxyRoxy, an interior designer from the Ukraine. She has so much energy and is in the competition to learn something new and to draw ‘inspiration from the audience and the artists’ she’s up against ‘to create something elegant for people to connect with’. FoxyRoxy’s convinced that Hong Kong has made her choose to become an artist as ‘there are so many distractions, you have to set aside time to create here’. Her energy is contagious and she’s ‘excited to see how that translates on to the wall’. “Get ready to see some foxes,” she says. “There are always foxes.”

Felipe Wong
Felipe Wong

Other artists to watch out for are Felipe Wong, a graphic designer-cum-art director-cum-toy  designer who’s taken a break from the corporate world so he can ‘explore all kinds of directions and squeeze more ideas out of them’, and seasoned pro Szabotage, who was runner-up in ‘series two’ behind Used Pencil. In fact, he and Stern Rockwell share a commonality. Hailing from the UK and New York, they have found Hong Kong’s scene ‘refreshing’. You have probably seen Rockwell’s three-storey mural at Coffee and Dough on Second Street, Sai Ying Pun. His ethos is simple, clear and inspiring: ‘everyone is part of the scene in Hong Kong, so get up and do it!’


Hong Kong has a spirited art scene and, it could be argued, has a truly international platform that should be celebrated as it offers artists and graffiti writers opportunities to forge ahead among their peers from across the world. So get down to Secret Walls x Havaianas to support our scene and, of course, to enjoy an electric night of entertainment, speedy street art and music too. See you there!

Secret Walls x Havaianas Fri May 15, Backstage Live, 1/F, Somptueux Central, 52-54 Wellington St, Central, 2167 8985; $100 (adv), $150 (door) - SOLD OUT.

Artist lineup:
Jay Pelmet vs Very Masa: 8pm-9pm
Bao vs Felipe Wong: 8pm-9pm
Szabotage vs AMT: 9.15pm-10.15pm
Stern Rockwell vs FoxyRoxy: 9.15pm-10.15pm

DJ108 (SoL8)
K-Melo (The GetUp!/Jazzy Sport HK)
DJ GruvRe:Flex (Deviated, Lost&Found)


Backstage Live details


Area Central

Open 7.30pm
View events at Backstage Live

Restaurants nearby