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Tai Kwun: where heritage and art take flight

LUXE City Guides
  • Written by LUXE City Guides

Hong Kong is famous for its grand-slam dining, shopping and entertainment, but the city has also rediscovered its cultural soul. The heritage compound of the Police Married Quarters ( PMQ ) and Xiqu Centre  — the modern, architectural home to Cantonese opera in the West Kowloon Cultural District — are among a slew of cultural revitalisation projects across the city.

Occupying a large pocket of land in the middle of Central’s SoHo district is Tai Kwun , a heritage-arts venue and a living record of the legal, judiciary and penal system in Hong Kong. Today, it’s home to 16 revitalised heritage buildings, including the former Central Police Station, Central Magistracy and Victoria Prison, juxtaposed by the contemporary Herzog & de Meuron-designed JC Contemporary and JC Cube. It is the recipient of the Award of Excellence in the UNESCO Asia-Pacific Awards for Cultural Heritage Conservation 2019. 

Tours in Tai Kwun

Visitors to Tai Kwun can get a glimpse of heritage stories from the late 19th century in Hong Kong through the painstakingly restored heritage buildings and large courtyards, which can be visited independently or with one of the organised tours. One of the most popular sections of the compound are the tiny, cramped cells which imprisoned thousands of people. The careful restoration and addition of interactive exhibits make for an atmospheric and informative encounter.

 

But Tai Kwun offers more than just a walk back in time. In addition to the heritage experience, visitors can enjoy an eclectic mix of visual arts, music and theatre performances, film screenings and educational programmes, with a sprinkling of free lunchtime concerts, evening openings and a stellar line-up of F&B outlets — there really is nowhere else quite like it in the city. But why take our word for it? Read on to find out more from those who have connected with the project, from art curators and artists to visitors both local and global, and discover why you too should visit Tai Kwun — go!


Enoch Cheng

Visual artist, performer and director who previously contributed to a Tai Kwun exhibition

It’s stood in Hong Kong since the 1800s; it’s witnessed so many changes and there are so many stories that can be told and retold.

Tai Kwun: Where Heritage and Art Take Flight

Image courtesy of Tai Kwun

“People are attracted by Tai Kwun’s history as well as its novelty and my work invited people to participate and engage with the space — it took them around different places in the precinct. I had to work around the specific nature of Tai Kwun; there is a multi-layered history embedded in the venue, be it the stone wall, the prison, the laundry steps, so I used all these unique qualities as the key elements for people to experience it.

 

I first heard about Tai Kwun many years ago, when I was a programme manager at Asia Art Archive and I was, and am excited about the potential of the venue. It’s stood in Hong Kong since the 1800s; it’s witnessed so many changes and there are so many stories that can be told and retold. This is fascinating, and creates an opportunity for people, both from Hong Kong and overseas to reflect on the city.”


Ying Kwok

Independent curator who previously curated an exhibition at Tai Kwun

I think JC Contemporary is a really beautiful museum in which to see contemporary arts.

Tai Kwun: Where Heritage and Art Take Flight

Image courtesy of Tai Kwun

“A lot of the time in the visual arts we’re thinking about how to best promote exhibitions so they appeal to a wider audience. Those who are interested in culture and art will always come, but it’s hard to get the wider community through the door. But at Tai Kwun it’s the opposite; there are so many people who visit the space, and then visit the exhibition.

 

It seems that many people — including friends who come to visit and the tourists we talked to — had heard about Tai Kwun before they visited. As well as the heritage buildings, I think JC Contemporary is a really beautiful museum in which to see contemporary arts; it’s definitely a great thing for Hong Kong.”


Erika Bollen

Belgian, living in Hong Kong

I didn’t know what to expect and was surprised because of the contrast between the historical and modern buildings.

Tai Kwun: Where Heritage and Art Take Flight

(Erika, far right)

“This is my fourth visit to Tai Kwun, I had seen it being renovated and now I always bring visitors here. Initially I didn’t know what to expect and was surprised because of the contrast between the historical and modern buildings — it’s unique and I love that! The atmosphere changes depending on which building you’re in; at the front it’s very relaxing, the prison area is sad, the modern spaces are arty — it’s a sum of very different parts and I like the fusion. I think prisons are interesting; I think prisons are interesting. It’s history — hard but true history — and it’s good that people get to see this side of Hong Kong. I suggest taking your time as there’s so much to see; when you allow time, it’s easy to explore.”

Josephine Lau

Hong Kong local, living overseas

“I’ve been to Tai Kwun before and I’m here now with friends who are visiting. Although I live overseas, I come to Hong Kong every year and have seen its transformation — it’s well-preserved, informative and clean. It’s quite surprising when you come in from Hollywood Road as it has this open space and doesn’t look or feel like a prison!”  

Farrah Elizabeth de Souza

South African, living in Hong Kong

“I always like how in Hong Kong the old meets new and I came to Tai Kwun after reading that it’s one of the ‘top 50 things to do in Hong Kong’. A lot of what you find here is modern and Hong Kong is seen as a modern city, so it’s nice to see a bit of history. I like the buildings, the historical architecture is really pretty; it’s classic and also vibrant with the open area in the middle.” 

 

Need a break during your day out at this cultural compound? Refuel at these 7 must-try restaurants in Tai Kwun

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