If you ever happen to be in the distinctly working class area of Ma Tau Kok (馬頭角) deep in the entrails of eastern Kowloon, you might come across a set of western-style red brick buildings that contrast neatly with the surrounding residential apartments. This is the Cattle Depot Artist Village, a former government slaughterhouse now converted to artist studios and exhibition spaces.
For nearly a century the Depot was used as an animal quarantine area and abattoir centre. It was finally closed down in 1999 after concerns from neighbouring residents regarding the hygiene of a slaughterhouse in a densely populated urban area. Today the cattle quarantine has been moved north to Sheung Shui, near the Mainland border, while the old Cattle Depot renovated and designated a historical monument. The complex now houses the studios and offices of about 15 independent artists and artist groups – however, because the buildings are not zoned as residential, they are technically not allowed to live there. Since the buildings are designated as historic, there are also strict rules against painting or otherwise altering the appearance of the structures.
On occasion, workshops and exhibitions take place on the premises, and other events such as book fairs and festivals are hosted. On this weekend afternoon, however, it is pretty quiet with only a handful of visitors and most of the studios closed. The red bricks and green painted trim remind me very much of the historic Distillery District back in Toronto. It’s a little unnerving, though, to think of all those animals who met their end here – and ended up on people’s dinner tables.
If you are in the area, the Depot is well worth a visit. It’s actually a nice oasis in the middle of the neighbourhood’s busy streets and noisy traffic. The old apartment buildings nearby are worth exploring too. There is no MTR station close by, but Ma Tau Kok is readily reachable by other public transport such as bus or minibus.