The Umbrella Revolution—Spraying Solidarity with Hong Kong Activists

By John Buckley 

A mural is appearing along an alleyway in downtown Cambridge. Three artists are hard at work with spray cans and paint tins, some in breathing masks, between clouds of spray and rain. The artwork is awe-inspiring, as evidenced by admiring passersby. But this is no ordinary graffiti “tag”—it’s a statement of solidary with tens of thousands on the opposite side of the globe.

“Stumbling happens, accidents happen, experiments happen. But that’s where God works.”

Meet David Popa ’15, Peter “H2” Huang, and Steffen Pollock ’17, three guys with a love for fine arts who experiment with multiple forms. Together, they are the street artist crew Bumbing Happens, aspiring to find beauty in the unexpected. (Bumbing? “You can’t call it painting, really; you can’t call it drawing. And ‘spray-painting’—well, that word was just too long,” Popa says.)

Their outdoor work together began during a Christmas break. With a free weekend in New York City ahead, Popa and Huang ventured inside the Metopolitan Museum of Art and began to create sketches of Van Goghs. An audience soon gathered, interacting with them as they did their work. Unfortunately, the colored charcoal they were using caused residue, so they had to move.

Rachel ChangThey took the experience outside, to the streets.

As artists, the experience recalibrated their form. “There was energy through giving and receiving with the audience interaction that we couldn’t get through studio work,” reflects Popa. Later, back on the North Shore, they began to use the Beverly Free Wall, a legal graffiti wall alongside the commuter rail tracks. “We realized that at that wall, with the train passing by, we could have that same interaction we experienced at the Met.”

Since these first experiences, Bumbing Happens continues to surprise with every one of their pieces. Their work can regularly be seen at the Beverly free wall, and online. The artists have also posted a Youtube video about their work.

In mid-October, Bumbing Happens created one of their most beautiful pieces to date—a mural striking in both its imagery and its statement of solidarity. The two-part mural expresses their support for friends in Hong Kong, and for the thousands of youth who since September have gathered daily, often under umbrellas, to peacefully protest for democratic reform against the tightening of the Chinese government’s grip.

The Bumbing Happens artists collaborated with Hong Kong native Rachel Chang ’17 to create the mural, which they have titled “The Umbrella Revolution.” Chang also created a video about the mural, and another about her solidarity with the protesters. The videos beautifully capture her story and the vision behind the mural.

The first part of the mural conveys a woman—one of the protesters—holding out her umbrella to shield a police officer from the rain. The second section portrays the faces of various Hong Kong demonstrators, based on photos found online. Pollock provided a lot of the graphic vision for this piece, including the idea of rcreating portraits of actual protesters, and the imagery of a yellow field of umbrellas. Since breaking on social media on the Bumbing Happens Facebook page, the mural has gone viral. “We’ve even had some of the people depicted in the second piece reach out and contact us,” said Popa. “The connection is unreal.”

Included front and center in the second piece is Chang herself. “I hope that by having my face there, it conveys that while I’m far away, I’m still with my friends in Hong Kong in spirit,” said Chang.

John Buckley ’15 is a writer for the Gordon College Office of College Communications, and Vice President of Communications for the Gordon College Student Association.