Art event showcases plight of Hong Kong "cage men"

HONG KONG (Reuters Life!) - The organizers of a popular Hong Kong art event staged a sobering exhibition into the plight of some of the affluent city’s poorest citizens, the “cage men” workers who call metal mesh boxes home.

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As part of Hong Kong’s annual art charity event ArtWalk 2009, the Schoeni Gallery, which normally deals with high-end Chinese contemporary works, devoted its space to a rusty iron cage or “cage home” to raise awareness of Hong Kong’s yawning wealth gap and social underbelly amid the financial crisis.

Split into three tiny bunks with grimy blankets and pillows, the “cage home” was taken from one of Hong Kong’s cramped, old tenement flats where around 1,000 or so men are still estimated to live in often squalid conditions.

The cages, which resemble livestock coops, are stacked on top of each other, several blocks to a room, and are barely big enough for a bed.

“Seeing a real cage home here can give people a real sense for the kind of dismal living conditions still existing in Hong Kong,” said Ho Hei-wah, the head of Hong Kong’s Society for Community Organization (SOCO) which helped set up the exhibition (

“The cage can almost speak or bring out the message of how difficult and bitter life is for Hong Kong’s poorest.”

Cage home residents were on hand to describe their lives to the well-heeled crowds surging through the gallery and signing petitions calling for the government to do more to alleviate poverty and aid those still left with inadequate housing.

“The highest bunk is the cheapest,” Chow Kam-chuen, a cage man told several Hong Kong women in high-heels, sipping wine.

“Rent is around HK$1300 ($167.6) a month, but you hit your head on the ceiling and it’s uncomfortable,” he said, adding he couldn’t afford rents elsewhere and was unwilling to wait years for public housing in far-flung districts.

A financial hub of multi-millionaires, luxury cars, swanky malls and hilltop mansions and apartments, Hong Kong is also home to an estimated 420,000 working poor, living on less than HK$5,000 ($641) a month in some of its grittier neighborhoods and sprawling public housing estates.

Around 2,000 people attended this year’s ArtWalk 2009 a growing annual charity event, when myriad art galleries and antiques stores clustered in the hills above the city’s financial district open their doors till midnight for an evening of wine, art, fun and reflection.

Editing by Miral Fahmy