Hong Kong protesters brace for street art literally going under the hammer

A pro-democracy protester arranges Chinese characters on a display board as she sits under a yellow umbrella at a protest site in the Admiralty district of Hong Kong on Nov 24, 2014. Hong Kong's pro-democracy protesters are at a crossroads -- as public support fades after nearly two months of mass sit-ins and gridlocked traffic, activists are split on whether to retreat or ramp up their campaign.

HONG KONG - With authorities preparing to break up another pro-democracy protest camp site in Hong Kong on Tuesday, some demonstrators are planning a quick-grab rescue of yellow umbrellas, Pokemon posters, satirical sculptures and other street art.

Volunteers with the Umbrella Movement Visual Archives and Research Collective are also snapping photos of paintings, banners, installations and objects that have come to define a movement seeking universal suffrage for the Chinese-controlled city.

"We must do something," said spokeswoman Clarisse Yeung.

"We don't know how long the disobedience movement has to go on in order for us to attain genuine universal suffrage. But we hope we can leave some historical footprints."

The protesters, seeking a free vote for the leader of the former British colony, have filled key roads with tents, changing rooms, study areas, first-aid stations and provided one of the most crowded places on Earth with a rare, large canvas to express its creativity for the past two months.

Authorities began clearing a small section of the main protest site on Hong Kong Island last week and are expected to move into the Mong Kok camps on the other side of the harbour on Tuesday.

Volunteers plan to carry about 100 selected pieces away during clearance, said Sampson Yu, founder of the collective. Warehouse space has been prepared.

But one stairway flooded with brightly coloured Post-it notes dubbed the "Lennon Wall", named after John Lennon's calls for peaceful protest, can only live on digitally.

Some activists, however, say they want to use their art work as an experiment.

Financial analyst Kain Cheung, who built a small statue with umbrellas, said he might just stand back and watch when authorities move in.

"I really want to see how Hong Kong police or bailiffs face Hong Kong people's art," he said.

"Even if they immediately, cold-bloodedly clear the site like machines, I really want to see it, and see if they will be touched even to the tiniest bit."

Chinese artist Miso Zhou, who witnessed the 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown on pro-democracy protesters, works into the night, his two-metre-tall paintings mirroring the people and objects around him.

"Art works participate in society too. If they get destroyed, they become more beautiful. They will have more stories and embrace more layers of meaning," Zhou said.

"Contemporary art should interact with society and reality. It is more meaningful this way."