The following post is a Guest Post by the fantastic Charlie of Charlie on Travel, another addition to our list of favourite travel bloggers.
Three stoic faces gaze straight ahead, unflinchingly. Their severe frowns and square jaws hide any real emotions.
The image is spray-painted onto the wall of an abandoned bottle cap factory in Taiwan’s capital city. In a society that values the concept of face – maintaining a good reputation and being respectful – faces that hide their emotions are common.
In Taiwan, you will rarely see anyone express strong emotions in public. For most people, it is important to always appear content, to save face for themselves and for others. Living in Taiwan, I remember a real sense of pressure to keep up appearances and keep my personal opinion under wraps. Taiwan’s cities are very much the same.
Hidden Street Art in Taiwan’s Cities
Walking through a Taiwanese city, whether it’s Taipei in the north or Kaohsiung in the south, the first thing you’ll notice is how accessible and how clean it is. But scratch a little deeper under the surface, and a burgeoning art-world is waiting to be discovered. Like a face concealing emotion, Taiwan’s street art is hidden.
Though graffiti first hit the streets of Taiwan in the mid-1990s, this little sweet potato shaped island out in the middle of the Pacific isn’t exactly known for its eclectic street art.
By the mid-2000s, the debate on the benefits of urban art really opened up. In 2006, Bbrother, an anti-authoritarian and anti-globalisation street artist was given a 3-5 year prison sentence for his unpermitted graffiti at the Huashan Creative Park in Taipei. Students went wild and started an online petition against the sentence. The lawsuit was eventually withdrawn but in the process gained a lot of press attention.
Instead of banning street art, Kaohsiung, Taiwan’s second largest city, led the way and in February 2012 designated a specific area for street artists. This started a chain reaction across the country, and by January 2013, Taipei also opened a legal space for street art.
This area was Nangang Bottle Cap Factory.
An Alternative Art Galley: Nangang Bottle Cap Factory
The factory originally manufactured tin plates before it became the ‘Taiwan Tobacco and Wine Monopoly Bureau Bottle Factory.’ Locals just refer to it as the Nangang Bottle Cap Factory.
This sprawling ramshackle art-project is made up of a series of open-air buildings with white-washed walls. There’s no formal entrance, only a little hole to slip through in the mesh iron fence. It’s not a tourist site by any means, though during the day-time there’ll be a few people ambling around in erratic circles.
The place has become a real haven for graffiti artists and sculptors who continue to return to produce more work. One room is full of black silhouettes, which appear like shadows around the walls. The little girl holding a balloon is reminiscent of a Banksy.
Next door, a large paper ship constructed out of tiny notes stuck precisely along a wooden support frame fills the room.
Head upstairs, being careful not to fall of the edges, and rooms are filled with intricate coloured works. Large faces, strange creatures and demon eyes are all around.
Endangered Street Art
The Bottle Cap Factory is currently due for demolition, and has been for a number of years now. The campaign to Save Nangang Bottle Cap Factory is still running, having successfully stalled the decision to demolish the factory for the meantime. Activists are urging that the factory should be preserved as a heritage site and could be used to attract more foreign tourists.
The factory is not only a hub for street artists but a place for all kinds of art events. The space has been used to host electronic music parties, a Really Free Market and is frequently used for fashion shoots and filming. In spite of this, the debate on whether the demolition should go ahead is still burning.
Do you think Nangang Bottle Cap Factory should be saved?
Is street art worth preserving for the sake of tourism?
Charlie is a world traveller, freelance writer and house sitter taking an alternative path across the world. Her travel blog, Charlie on Travel, is about simple, sustainable and socially-responsible travel. Follow her adventures on Facebook, Twitter and Google+.