In a society plagued by government-backed demolitions of homes, a 31-year-old street artist going by the name “Candy Bird” is taking the silent approach to his protests against what the artist considers to be an apathetic government.
Over the years, Candy Bird has used his talent to express his frustration at what he calls the government’s disregard of the plight of ordinary people, from residents of Taipei’s Huaguang Community (華光) to the Wang (王) family in the controversial Wenlin Yuan (文林苑) urban renewal case.
Before the Taipei City Government forcibly demolished the Wang family’s two houses in March last year to make way for a 15-story luxury apartment complex, Candy Bird painted a graffito on the balcony of one house to draw attention to “people’s powerlessness before big corporations.”
It shows a man is kneeling on the ground with a stack of cash on his back as a giant prepares to cut him open with a knife and fork.
Candy Bird has also shone a spotlight on the Huaguang Community, an old government dormitory community that has been the subject of a decade-long conflict between the Ministry of Justice and its residents, mostly descendants of military personnel who fled to Taiwan with the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) in 1949.
The ministry had announced its plan to tear down the community to make room for an urban renewal project in 2000, but it did not carry out the plan until February this year, due to the residents’ repeated refusal to leave.
The artwork shows a plump excavator operator playing on a seesaw with a little girl who is watering a flower. The pair is surrounded by a number of suit-clad businessmen, whose eyes are blindfolded by gauze masks.
Although his ironic works have earned him much applause, Candy Bird says his works are not a good sign.
“More graffiti from me means more underprivileged people are being evacuated against their will. I wish these things had never happened, so that I could focus more on my own work,” he said.
A graduated of Huafan University’s Department of Fine Arts and Culture Creative Design, Candy Bird said his first job after military service was at a public art company, where he was in charge of graphic design.
“At the time, I worked 12 hours a day and was paid only NT$23,000 a month. However, the company fired me six months later without just cause and even refused to pay me redundancy,” Candy Bird said.
Candy Bird’s life took a turn when he met Cheng Kai-tung (鄭凱同), the drummer for the indie rock band The Peppermints (薄荷葉), and Sanying Self-Help Group spokesman Chiang Yi-hao (江一豪), whose advocacy for “small people” prompted him to become an art designer for the Sanying Anti-evacuation Group and a social activist.
Sanying Aboriginal Community (三鶯部落) is a small community where the vast majority of residents are Amis Aborigines from Hualien and Taitung counties who moved to Taipei to work as construction workers and miners from the late 1970s.
Over the past decade, the community has been razed several times by the New Taipei City (新北市) government as the houses were regarded as having been illegally constructed in a restricted zone. However, residents rebuilt their homes each time the village was flattened.
Asked why he created graffiti art instead of spray-painting sarcastic slogans on the walls, Candy Bird said: “Raining curses on the government will change nothing, because change has to come from within, from people’s own self-awareness.”
A beautiful graffito can make people stop to admire every bit of its detail, which gets them to really start thinking about what is wrong with this society, Candy Bird said.
“If I keep doing what I do, maybe one day my works can prompt some government officials or public functionaries to do some self-reflection,” he said.