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Murray Edwards College
University of Cambridge

Women in Art: Hong Kong

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    13 Mar

    Eliza Gluckman - Senior Curator and Deputy Director, Government Art Collection, Former Curator of the New Hall Art Collection 2015 to 2018

    The Women in Art: Hong Kong exhibition, which opened at the New Hall Art Collection on 7 March 2019, the eve of International Women’s Day, follows a similar exhibition held at Sotheby’s Hong Kong which opened precisely a year earlier.

    That exhibition highlighted a new piece of research developed over several years by Eliza Gluckman, then Curator of the New Hall Art Collection, and local Hong Kong critic and writer Phoebe Wong. Eliza drew on contacts she had previously made in Hong Kong, whilst researching for a dissertation.  In the intervening fifteen years, Hong Kong, has had an increasingly active arts infrastructure with major new spaces opening, attracting international participation and fostering a home-grown community of artists and collectors.

    Mediha Ting, Orange Land Green
    Void with Leon Sign, 2010, oil on canvas

    The exhibition, including many donated works, looks to broaden international representation in the New Hall Art Collection.  The College has a number of students from Hong Kong and South Asia, and is delighted to strengthen ties with the region through alumna and friends.

    Whilst working with the Collection in the UK, Eliza found that her role often required her to be a voice for women artists, a voice which drew attention to their under representation in collections and exhibitions. In Hong Kong the Collection found support for some new research into women artists from Claire Hsu, the founder of the Asia Art Archive. Eliza and Phoebe’s findings show that ‘the statistics of representation are not encouraging but they are not that different to those in Europe.’

    The research has had some far-reaching effects. Local Hong Kong collector, curator and photographer Caroline Chiu said that, before she got involved with the project, she had ‘thought the playing field was more equal’ and was surprised by the clarity of the findings. Since last year she, together with other women, have set up a network of some 30 women, curators, artists, collectors, publishers, gallery owners, who meet to offer support and to find common ground to help get ‘dream projects’ up and running. She says that the report’s findings have had a direct impact on her thinking when she curates’ exhibitions, and that her latest purchases have been works by women.

    The Women in Art: Hong Kong exhibition, which is currently running at the New Hall Art Collection, shows the work of seven Hong Kong women artists, covering the period from the 1970s to 2019, a time of remarkable change in Hong Kong which shows in the art on display.

    Reflecting the stages in that change, the artists were researched or interviewed in generational groups for the research. Fang Zhaoling (1914-2006) was one of the leading artists of the first generation, working in Hong Kong with brief periods spent in the UK and America.  Whilst experimenting with abstract styles she retained the traditions of Chinese calligraphy and ink painting, making them contemporary through choosing humanitarian and environmental themes. She is considered to be a pioneer and her work still has a market value and two of her works hang in the new exhibition.

    Those born in the 1940s and 50s, referred to as ‘Baby Boomers’, graduated from school in the 60s when there was only one art school in the Territory, so opportunities for arts training were limited and several went abroad to study.  Together with other returnees, they were a major force in bringing contemporary art practice to Hong Kong beginning in the mid-1980s.

    Choi Yan Chi spent several years in the School of Art Institute in Chicago and has spent much of her career teaching, bringing new experimental art making to Hong Kong artists. Choi has two very different works in the exhibition. Bubble Dream, a diptych, can be seen as purely abstract, or, as the title suggests, a floating arrangement of whimsical objects.

    Choi Yan Chi Drowned Books, 2019, glass tank,
    24 books, vegetable oil air pump, air pum regulator
    and plastic pump

    Drowned Books, 2019, is one in a series dating back to her response to the Tiananmen Square massacre in 1989. Then she took books and drowned them in water, representing the suppression of knowledge. For this version, 12 books, chosen by Cambridge women and 12 by women in Hong Kong, have been ‘drowned’ in oil, which simultaneously preserves their knowledge but prevents them from being read. Each donor was asked to explain their choices in a short text. These have been brought together in a leaflet.

    Au Hoi Lam, born 1978, studied at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. At that time Hong Kong was prospering economically, public services had improved, and relations with the British colonial government were calm. However, her piece in the exhibition, Hong Kong Hong Kong, dated 2016, explores the legacy of the ‘handover’ from Britain to China in 1997, and the reality of the ‘one country, two systems’ deal. The use of linen in the work references the long history of fabric painting in China.

    Ko Sin Tung, was born in 1987, when Hong Kong was prosperous though with an underlying tension as the handover of power approached. Express, 2015, is one of a series of works capturing the construction of the Express Rail Link which now connects Hong Kong with Guangzhou and Shenzhen.

    Mediha Ting was born in Belgium, grew up in Hong Kong and studied Fine Art in London and California. Her brightly coloured acrylic work, Orange Land Green Void with Leon Sign, 2010, was inspired by her sense of estrangement on her trips back to Hong Kong because of the continual emergence of new technologies and slangs. The brightly coloured painting merges abstract shapes, with handwritten and digital text and includes a neon sign, a feature fast disappearing from the city.

    Man Fung Yi, born 1968, and Jaffa Lam are both known for their sculptures and installations. Insight, by Man, is an abstract work using meticulous mark-making on silk which gives an appearance both of a Chinese calligraphic seal and of an American ‘doily’.

    Jaffa Lam, 1973, studied in Hong Kong and has had residencies around the world. Her piece Star in your Spittoon, a kitsch found sculpture made of two spittoons, was inspired by the spittoon in a photograph of the meeting between Mrs Thatcher and Deng Xiaoping in 1984.  If you peer within you can see the ‘star’ of the title. The fabric stars are made from fragments of umbrella that create a linage from this political meeting in the 1980s to the recent umbrella movement.