May 30 2020
We take a look at how HK protest art portrays the protective gear HKers have to employ to defend against teargas and bullets in their pro-democracy movement.
‘What to take with you to a protest’ is one of the earliest strands of HK protest art that exists. These below, recommending frontliners to bring helmets, respirators, towels, umbrella, water, goggles, cling wrap for arms, etc. all came from June/ July.
I mention ‘frontliners’ because the gear that’s recommended for the ‘woleifei’s who don’t expect to see any action was different back then. Water, charger, meds, face mask to hide IDs, and the always trusty umbrella was all one needed. Back in the day.
But things took a turn for worse late July, when triads beat civilians senseless at a metro station, while HK police just… stood aside and let it happen. Even if you don’t seek violence, it comes to you anyway. Hardhats & bike helmets became a lot more popular.
We saw a similar evolution in HKers’ use of masks. In early days, unless you’re a ‘valiant’, surgical masks/ N95s were deemed enough. But as it became clear HK police had no qualms about firing teargas at everyone, respirators became normalised.
Respirators are complicated stuff. But the HK protest communication network have been helpful. Telegram channels were flooded with the recommended combos of masks & filters to use (like the ones below, from Jul/Aug), and which pro-democracy shops to buy them from.
Goggles are also part of the HKers’ ‘kit’. Goggles can keep out teargas, but they also serve to blunt impact of projectiles - HK police shot a beanbag round at a street medic in Aug, and later blinded a journalist in Sep. Better safe than sorry.
Since those early days, a lot more protesters have started donning the full-face respirator, which does double-duty of respirator and goggles. They are more expensive though, so not everyone can afford the protection.
And this is why we have a sub-genre of HK protest art that encourages protesters to not waste supplies.
But at the same time, gear is just gear. Our art also says if one’s safety is an issue, discard what you can. Frontliners’ lives & freedoms are worth infinitely more.
It’s surreal a city known for being a financial hub needs such knowledge of protest gear. But that’s the thing -when teargas seeps into homes, when kids & elderly get pepper-sprayed, it’s not ‘protest’ gear. It’s just what you need to go on with life in this chaotic world.
BONUS: This handy list of protective gear & ‘amenities’ HK protesters used is from Aug. A more innocent time when we were still deploying marbles and trusted the public transport system… 😩