As Tai Kwun celebrates its first anniversary, we reflect on how the Club has breathed new life back into the heritage site to allow Hong Kong to reconnect with its history and to create a cultural space for everybody to enjoy.
The badge of a detective who served the police force back in the 1920s and 1930s; a ‘silence’ sign that used to hang on the wall of Central Magistracy’s courtroom, reminding members of the public to stay quiet during hearings; and a Servis Recorder for officers of the now-defunct Victoria Prison to record the time and frequency of their night-time patrols. At first glance, these items may seem random enough. Together, however, they form a fascinating kaleidoscope of memories about the Central Police Station (CPS) compound.
With a history that dates back to the mid-19th century, the CPS compound comprises three declared monuments – the former Central Police Station, Central Magistracy and Victoria Prison. The compound was once a closed-off part of Hong Kong, until the gates reopened to the public last year, with the heritage site reborn as Tai Kwun – Centre for Heritage and Arts.
To celebrate Tai Kwun’s first anniversary, the centre is shining the spotlight on the site’s significant historic past with its Tai Kwun 101 exhibition, which is on show until Sunday, 22 September. This exhibit promises to reveal the little-known stories of Tai Kwun: the 101 objects on display, the thoughtfully re-created scenes of the bygone era and recordings of people sharing their experiences at the CPS compound all combine seamlessly to offer visitors an unprecedented and all-encompassing peek into the lives and moments that have shaped and defined Tai Kwun throughout the years. Through a specially-designed interactive experience, visitors can even step into the lives of a police constable, Justice of the Peace, prisoner, prison warden or member of the public. Reliving these characters’ experiences at the CPS compound back in the day helps visitors to appreciate the different facets of Tai Kwun. What’s more, visitors can take part in the many public events, activities and workshops that complement the flagship exhibition.
Aside from Tai Kwun 101, an array of exhibitions and programmes featuring home-grown and international artists and performance troupes has also been lined up to mark the first anniversary of the opening of Tai Kwun – Centre for Heritage and Arts. One of the events is MURAKAMI vs MURAKAMI, a major survey exhibition by the Japanese artist Takashi Murakami, which is running until Sunday, 1 September. The exhibition features over 60 paintings and sculptures in a stunning, immersive setting that showcases the intriguing paradoxes embodied in the diverse work and life of the artist. The exhibition includes video works, samples of his private art collection, as well as the artist’s spectacular wall and floor art, and a showcase of some of his iconic and outlandish costume designs.
These programmes – not to mention the many exhibitions and events that have been staged since Tai Kwun’s opening – are not only fitting tributes to the heritage site but are also a testament to the conscientious, on-going efforts that the Club puts into the developing city’s heritage and cultural offering.
Such dedication has paid off handsomely. Only 12 months into its opening, Tai Kwun– Centre for Heritage and Arts recorded approximately 3.4 million visitors, making it one of the most visited heritage sites in Hong Kong. More than 90% of visitors interviewed called it ‘a destination with inspiration and stimulation’. Over 750 public programmes and events, more than 800 heritage docent tours, and numerous school tours and outreach programmes over the past year have all played a role in winning the hearts of visitors. In its first year of operations, Tai Kwun has also provided a platform for 36 local contemporary artists to showcase their works alongside their respected international counterparts. More than 80 of the 90 or so performing arts programmes hosted at Tai Kwun were produced by Hong Kong-based artists and performing groups.
As Tai Kwun marks its first anniversary, Club Chairman Dr Anthony W K Chow noted with pride that the restoration of the CPS compound and its revitalisation as Tai Kwun – Centre for Heritage and Arts has enabled the Club to not only set a new standard for heritage conservation in Hong Kong, but also to transform the site into a living, breathing cultural space that everybody can enjoy.
Another reason for celebrating this heritage conservation and revitalisation project – the largest of its kind in the city and made possible by a partnership between the Club and the Government of the HKSAR – is the many praises and recognition it has earned in its first year. The project won the Structural Excellence Award 2019 presented by The Hong Kong Institution of Engineers, the HKICON Conservation Award 2018 – Interpretation Category by The Hong Kong Institute of Architectural Conservationists, and the DFA Design for Asia Award 2018 – Grand Award by The Hong Kong Design Centre to name just a few. The arts programmes produced by Tai Kwun have also won wide and varied acclaim, including the film Prison Architect which was selected for the Berlin International Film Festival this year. Winning praises from top overseas media like USA Today and TIME Magazine which respectively described Tai Kwun as ‘one of the not-to-be-missed art stops in Hong Kong’ and ‘one of the world’s 100 greatest places 2018’ – a list that spanned six continents and 48 countries and territories – were just the icing on the cake.