An online art project has been launched to let people create “poems” using the novelty car licence plates which are ubiquitous in Hong Kong. Visitors to the site “HKVANIT1ES” can choose from a collection of 2,500 plates to piece together quirky, unexpected sentences.

“Poems” on social media with the hashtag “#HKVANIT1ES” are shared on the site for others to enjoy. “CAT. U WISH. I WILL. LOVE UU. MIAO MIAO. PK88,” one reads.

Photo: hkvanities.com.

Hong Kong-based Italian artist Michele Salati, who created the site, told HKFP the project was a new way for Hongkongers to express themselves. “The HKVANIT1ES project invites [people] to engage in this exploration and discovery of the city in a light and playful way,” he said in an email.

“Each plate is like a line of poetry racing through the bustling streets of the city. It is poetry in motion,” he continued. “This gave me the idea to collect images of thousands of vanity plates so they can be mixed and matched into poems.”

The site’s collection of vanity plates was collated from other social media accounts dedicated to personalised car plates on Facebook and Instagram. They range from the humourous (“SLOWDOWN”), to the philosophical (“NOT2BE”), to the unexpected (“ARGH”). Plates are listed alphabetically for easy navigation.

Photo: hkvanities.com.

The artist said the diversity of car plates was a reflection of the different types of Hongkongers. “When I first discovered the vanity plates, it just made sense that a city with this extraordinary visual density would use vanity plates to make personal statements circulate through the city.”

“Vanity plates are the ultimate non-essential car accessory used by owners to highlight their status, wealth, humour, desires, beliefs or superstitions – and in Hong Kong, they can be seen everywhere,” he said.

The project has also caught the attention of local hip-hop artist Dough-Boy, who created a rap based on the HKVANIT1ES database.

Besides injecting tongue-in-cheek humour onto Hong Kong’s roads, personalised car plates are widely considered to be status symbols. Last month, a car plate that read “W” sold for HK$26 million at an auction held by the Transport Department.

The department introduced a personalised car plates registration scheme in 2006, allowing for the creation of plates of up to eight characters, using a combination of letters and numbers or just letters or numbers alone. Proceeds go to a government charity fund.

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