Out of all the places my travels have taken me and my family, one of my favorite cities is Kaohsiung, TW. Kaohsiung is the second largest city in Taiwan and is about the size of Jacksonville, FL. Despite being small in land mass, it has a population of almost 3 million. The city is home to not only delicious food, but some of the friendliest people as well.
Just by looking at Kaohsiung on the map, you wouldn't know about the up and coming street art scene. This growing scene is lead mostly by a local art gallery in the heart of the city. Hidden throughout, murals are blended into local residences and schools, making Kaohsiung a must-see place to go to see some amazing street art. Arcade Art Gallery has curated over 20 murals so far, with a roster including Okuda, Vhils, Werc, Sen2, PSOMAN, Bikismo, and Levi Jacobs.
Along my journey, I was able to catch up with and talk to Arcade Art Gallery founder José Enrique Montes Hernandez, on his inspiration and motivation for putting Kaohsiung on the map.
The Kiddist: Tell our audience about Arcade Art Gallery, and how it got started?
José Enrique Montes Hernandez: I started Arcade Art Gallery in 2016 with the mission of promoting the Lowbrow, Graffiti and Street Art Movements. To date, Arcade has curated numerous Exhibitions both in Taiwan and abroad. We have also collaborated with the local Government here in Taiwan to curate murals and public art installations throughout the city, and will continue to do so.
TK: I know you are originally from Montreal, what made you move to Kaohsiung?
JH: The simple answer is, love brought me to Taiwan. Though, to address your first statement, I’m actually originally from El Salvador, however Civil War forced my family from our Country, and we relocated to Montréal, Canada. It was in Montreal that I met my wife, though she later begun working in Taiwan, and after one of my visits, I decided to stay. Professionally, I saw the potential of a rapidly developing market here, and also the lack of proper representation for Taiwanese Graffiti artists. With the creation of Arcade, we aimed to create proper opportunities to showcase Taiwanese talent.
TK: How did you initially get involved with street art?
JH: I was lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time, with the right people. I was the personal photographer of well-known French Canadian musician, Jean Leloup, and also a fashion photographer under the pseudonym ‘MARQUISMONTES’, so I was definitely part of the scene in Montreal, and got to mix with a lot of talented people. In 2009 I met SENCK, a Graffiti Writer/Curator from Montréal, who introduced me to the local scene. With him, I had the opportunity to be part of many great exhibitions; ‘WILL RISE’ (7th Letter Crew) 2010, ‘Real As Fuck’ COPE2 2011, ‘Saturation’ (Group Show) 2012; just to name a few. I also helped SENCK host editions of a ‘Meeting Of Styles’, and then the ‘Can You Rock Festival’.
Around 2011, I started to write for the infamous 120z Prophet website about the Graffiti culture in Montréal. Shortly after, I was introduced to the Yves Laroche Gallery, a Canadian based gallery with a reputation for showcasing Lowbrow artists for over 25 years, a real OG in the game. Mr. Laroche saw potential in me and he asked me to join his team. Yves taught me the ropes, and together we curated some amazing Exhibitions.
TK: What was the inspiration behind Arcade Art Gallery?
JH: Arcade Art Gallery developed more or less organically following the completion of my time at Yves Laroche and my move to Taiwan. I knew that the scene in Taiwan needed this, and I also knew I could give exposure to the Underground Arts culture and bring people together. I could provide a voice to talented local artists whom otherwise wouldn’t have had the opportunity to show work in the ‘regular’ Taiwanese Galleries.
TK: Where does your passion for curating come from?
JH: "Street Art" is just one facet of our interests. We curate and represent many artists, ranging all the way from Lowbrow to Graffiti. We are lucky to work with mature, well-established Artists, though we also love working with young emerging talents. Supporting future talent is something we are passionate about.
As to our mural projects, they have provided us the chance to interact with an audience that we may not have been able to reach in the Gallery space. As much as I love being in Gallery; curating shows, working sales and everything that comes with that side of the business, nothing beats being outside with the people, feeling that energy, and creating something that changes a whole neighborhood overnight.
2 images above: PSOMAN WIP on 1 of his 2 walls for Arcade Art Gallery in Kaohsiung
- Thank you José for taking the time to answer a few of my questions, I can't wait for my family's next trip to Tawain to visit, and see how the scene has grown!