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The Pivotal Decade: Hong Kong in art

Felicity Clarke visits Chinese Arts Centre and invites Confidential readers for an exclusive viewing – with a drink of course

Published on June 26th 2007.


The Pivotal Decade: Hong Kong in art

30 June 2007 sees the ten year anniversary of the transfer of sovereignty of Hong Kong from Britain to China. To mark the anniversary of the handover and provide an artistic insight into the years that have passed since, Chinese Arts Centre launches the exhibition The Pivotal Decade: Hong Kong Art 1997 – 2007.

Bringing together painting, sculpture, photography and installation, The Pivotal Decade showcases the talent currently at the forefront of the Hong Kong art scene.

Hong Kong is a place where Western and Eastern cultures fuse to form a curious and rewarding mix of Chinese traditions and values sitting within a Westernised and highly capitalist economy. But what was it like to live and work in Hong Kong through this period of monumental change? What has changed and what has remained the same in the first decade under Chinese rule? The Pivotal Decade aims to give an insight into the cultural identity of Hong Kong and explore the difficult path the region has been compelled to follow.

The exhibition features specially commissioned works by a group of young local artists who were invited to reflect on the previous ten years. Chinese Arts Centre's Ying Kwok, herself an artist from Hong Kong, co-curated the exhibition. “I asked the artists to clarify their works as a commentary, a documentary or a criticism of the decade since the handover, and they were requested to tell what particular event or situation they are responding in their works.” The result is that the individual responses come together to form an artistic documentation of Hong Kong's very recent history.

However, to view The Pivotal Decade purely in these terms would be to ignore the high quality of the works: it is first and foremost a showcase of the best in contemporary Hong Kongese art. The artists featured are all graduates from the Chinese University of Hong Kong's Fine Art Department, the territory's oldest and most acclaimed fine art school, and the exhibition has been co-curated by Henry Au-Yueng from Grotto Fine Arts. This is a Hong Kong gallery which exclusively represents local Chinese artists with a particular interest in more avant-garde artworks. As Ying explains, “Hong Kong is the only area in the world which provides a balanced training and knowledge of Chinese and Western art. Artists educated in the area have good knowledge on both and it is visible in their work”.

Bringing together painting, sculpture, photography and installation, The Pivotal Decade showcases the talent currently at the forefront of the Hong Kong art scene. Artists featured include Joey Leung Ka Yin who employs skills from the Chinese Gongbi drawings to depict unusual characters and surreal situations expressing the isolation and self-indulgence of the urban character. Luke Ching Chin-Wai, whose previous works include giant, scarily, realistic paper sculptures of cockroaches, sees himself as a spontaneous observer of the city rebuilding in his works a notion of the city that is in-between real life and the ornamental. In contrast, Chow Chun Fai's photography and painting stems from an exploration of philosophies, religion and myth from both China and the West: an understanding of the concept of internal strength and revelation permeates through his work. The variety of the approaches and techniques of the artists means the show promises to throw up some very interesting takes on the recent situation in Hong Kong.

Whilst the anniversary of the handover and the resulting first decade under Chinese rule has provided the occasion and theme for The Pivotal Decade, its primary concern is to raise awareness of a distinct artistic identity in post-colonial Hong Kong. The exhibition is an introduction to a group of incredibly talented artists and provides a glimpse into a vibrant art scene as well as into Hong Kong’s key historical moment.

The Pivotal Decade: Hong Kong Art 1997–2007 opens on June 30th. There is an opportunity to meet some of the artists at the preview on Friday 29th June with a discussion about Hong Kong art 4.30pm–6.00pm followed by a drinks reception 6pm– 8pm.

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