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Tea Leaves

Hong Kong's political 'revolution' is artistic as well

A vibrant art scene created the conditions and demand for free expression

Locals check out contemporary works at Art Basel in Hong Kong. (Photo by John Krich) 

Art and politics: their connection has been pondered through the ages. But the current upheaval in Hong Kong offers a new twist on old debates. For it is the same generation that helped transform Hong Kong into a global center for cutting-edge exhibitions and ambitious museums that is now fighting on the streets to protect democratic rights. It is also the generation that has provided much of the appreciative public for the city's vibrant art scene.

Not so long ago, amassing money and spending it on luxury items seemed to be the overriding pursuit in this famed trading post. Relatively few citizens of any age appeared interested in art (except as part of an advertisement perhaps for designer jeans). Visiting the stuffy, tradition-bound Hong Kong Museum of Art one Saturday a decade ago, I found myself entirely alone: one man amid dozens of landscape scrolls. But on a visit earlier this year, before protesters took to the streets, I was being jostled by a crush of hip youth eager to view the latest wild expressions and obscure installations of the contemporary art world.

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