While many, when they hear about a Hong Kong art exhibition, might assume the art would “just be Chinese,” a curator in Seattle is out to show the city, and the country, that the city’s art scene is diverse and constantly evolving.
David Francis, past board member at the Center on Contemporary Art (CoCA), spent six months last year in Hong Kong, and came back to Seattle emblazoned with passion for the city and its artists. He put out an artists call, and on March 19 the Change-Seed exhibition opened its doors at CoCA, featuring 24 artists.
“My hope is for people to understand that Asian art, and Chinese art, is not just Ai Weiwei, it’s not just the Chinese art rockstars of the ’80s, who many of them have now gone back to Beijing and Shanghai,” Francis explained. “Hong Kong is also an interesting art center, and it’s developing in an interesting way at an important point and time.”
Francis did not realize before he booked his trip that the rising political tensions between Hong Kong and Mainland China would lead to his being in Hong Kong during the Umbrella Revolution. He learned a lot about the socio-political situation in the region, and is passionate for people in the U.S. to learn about it as well.
“We hope that people will be interested in the frontlines socio-political situation playing out; to see what kinds of work artists do during that kind of circumstance,” Francis said. “In the U.S. the art is often directly political, but in Hong Kong many of them make indirect, less overt references in their work.”
The show’s name itself speaks to the current struggle: “change” and “seed” serve as a central metaphor for the exhibition, that contemporary art in Hong Kong and Taiwan is currently undergoing extremely rapid development as the world’s primary economic force shifts toward Asia in the 21st century.”
People from around the world now call Hong Kong home and identify as Hong Kong artists.
Yael Bronner Rubin is a photographer featured in the show who has lived in South Africa and Israel, and now lives in Hong Kong.
“Some people like to paint Hong Kong art in terms of whether it is authentic or not, and I don’t agree with that, it’s more complex than that and I’m happy Francis is including this complexity,” Bronner Rubin said. “Often people might say, ‘oh you’re not Chinese, you’re not a real Hong Kong artist,’ and these ideals of what’s authentic is not relevant to the new world we live in. Cultures overlap and there are a lot of similarities between different cultures that often get overlooked.”
Bronner Rubin gives the example of one of her pieces in the show, entitled Mudra, which has two scrolls as the central theme of the photograph. Scrolls have deep roots in Chinese tradition, as they do also in Jewish tradition. Mudra, therefore, can evoke feelings of familiarity by different peoples looking at the same piece.
In the exhibition, the diversity within Asian artists and their backgrounds is also represented. Glass artist Sunny Wang, an Assistant Professor at Hong Kong Baptist University, was born in Taiwan and has lived in Hong Kong for the past eight years, while visual artist Andrew Luk was born in New Jersey, but has lived in Hong Kong for 19 years.
Luk is interested how the American audience will receive Change-Seed.
“As I understand it from friends who live in Hong Kong, who were traveling in America during the Umbrella Movement, the American media exaggerated a fair amount about events,” Luk explained. “In reality, most people were still able to go about their business on a day-to-day basis with little to no interference during the protests.”
Luk says he’s concerned the exhibition and its political elements, “might get framed within the lingering cold war era American ‘fetishization’ of democratic movements.”
“In which case,” Luk continued, “what may get overlooked is the inherent politics involved in making art in cultures imbued with strong filial piety and a sense of pragmatism when it comes to things like work and life.”
Since the show’s opening on March 19, Francis said work by artist Chan Po Fung, a native Hongkonger who’s creations have spanned performance and mixed media, and contemporary jewelry, have been very popular with CoCA visitors for “the range of his work and his wonderful wearable sculptures.”
Chan gives a different viewpoint than Luk, as he says the Umbrella Revolution is a great inspiration to him, for it has shown his generation that youth can step forward to voice their beliefs.
“Living in today’s Hong Kong, both the freedoms of speech and art are narrowing,” Chan said. “I hope the American audience can feel the passion of all the individuals who are voicing out against injustice in their own way, thus conquering intimidation and fear. Artwork is a good medium to raise questions.”
Change-Seed will be on view at CoCA through May 15, 2015. For more information, visit www.cocaseattle.org/exhibitions/current/change-seed.