We’re continuing our exploration of London’s creative talents with Hong Kong roots. If you haven’t read the first part of this series, you can find it here.
For Anna Lee, who moved to London in 2019, photography offers an extended way to connect with and make sense of her new environment. She has been documenting houses and flats she’s lived in, eerie empty streets during lockdowns, music events, and all kinds of daily occurrences in her adopted city. Born and bred in Hong Kong, she describes herself as a “city girl who was often isolated from nature.” During her travels around the UK, she became fascinated with rural life and farming culture. She is currently working on a photographic series that depict life on farmlands in places such as Wales and Northern. She is interested in uncovering stories and depicting ways of living that are more connected with our natural habitat, and aims to pique people’s curiosity—especially those from Hong Kong like her—about different ways of living. Lee’s passion for storytelling is also revealed through her commercial works, including music videos.
Depicting daily scenes with his family and dog has been the front and centre of Hong Kong-born artist Chris Huen Sin-kan’s practice. Typified by the technique of fusing Chinese ink layering with Western abstraction, his large-scale paintings often capture the minutiae of life and repeated daily routines: walks in parks, children’s playtime, domestic chores, and various nondescript quotidian scenes. Recently relocated to London with his family and dog, the painter has continued this wonderfully intuitive process of art-making. While there has been an inevitable shift in how he perceives his identity, Huen claims that he and his family still largely live life the same way. The ambit of Huen’s oeuvre is never to complicate our existence in the world, but to account for the ways we experience being alive; to begin in personal specificity and permeate to wherever the viewer stands.
“Hong Kong culture is such a peculiar thing, it disappears once you try to put it under a microscope and scrutinise it,” says John Chan, one half of the contemporary art duo made up of Ghost Chan and himself. This sentiment is exemplified in their thoughtful yet fluid approach to their creative practice, which traverses themes such as identity, placemaking and the collective human experience through a wide-ranging body of works encompassing videos, installation, performances and participatory workshops. Born and raised in Hong Kong, the pair moved to London in 2018 to complete a MA in contemporary dance, and have since made the city their home. Recently, the two have set up Hidden Keileon CIC with four other London-based Hong Kong artists and curators: Angela Wai Nok Hui, Bonnie Chan, Sandra Lam and Jeffrey Choy, with the vision to critically engage with stories of marginalised communities. At the end of this month, they will be launching Paradoxical Gasp, which investigates the traumatic legacy of tear gas exposure in protests and social movements around the world.
As one of the eight UK-based emerging artists selected for The Photographer’s Gallery New Talent exhibition and mentoring programme, Jimmi Ho, who has been living in London since 2019, has been exploring concepts, moments and struggles of being a Hong Kong immigrant in the UK. The project, titled So close and yet so far away, is split into three chapters consisting of photography and text. The first stems from Ho’s personal reflection and contemplation on his identity and memories, the latter part incorporates interviews and conversations with Hong Kong migrants. Some of these stories are explicitly political, while some focus on life and how the web of past and present is woven into aspects of daily existence and our collective consciousness. Working on this project has been a pivotal experience for the artist, who found the process intensely personal and deeply emotional.
Hong Kong-born comic artist Justin Wong has been working in editorial illustration for more than 15 years. With a focus on political cartoons, Wong found himself relocating to London earlier this year so he could continue his work freely. Like many other Hongkongers in similar positions, the decision to uproot and leave his home was an immensely difficult process. “I was really upset and stressed about my career, I simply wanted to do well,” he recalls. It was during this transitional period that he launched a new comic series, Daily Wish, which initially served as a self-healing process but immediately gained traction online due to Wong’s established reputation and its resonance with Hong Kong people. Featuring the Little Pink Man, a whimsical character with an ample body and a small pink head with emoji-like expressions, these daily comics are accompanied with light hearted captions or anecdotes such as “Wish you bump into Leon Lai today” and “Wish you a good hair day.”
The zany, playfully absurd world of illustrator Kayla Lui immerses viewers in scenes shaped by the artist’s satirical take on Cantonese culture, and its linguistic ability to reappropriate language and offer new meanings. One of her most ambitious comic book projects, 大龍鳯酒家 Dailongfeng Restaurant (2021), which Lui self-published, tells the uncanny story of a boy who is trying to escape from a Jau Lau, a traditional, family-style Cantonese restaurant familiar to and frequented by many Hong Kong people, where all kinds of characters in society come to dine, and different values and personalities come into a clash. Centreing around Lui’s subversive interpretations of archetypal Hong Kong customs such as filial piety, and her astute interest in wordplay and slang, these fictional worlds leaven the pervading anxieties of our times by instances of relief and humour.
Hong Kong- and London-based artist Lau Hiu-tung spends a lot of time exercising: trail runs, hiking, marathons and going to the gym. She finds pushing herself to physical limits painfully liberating, and has become fascinated with the idea of exercising as escapism. When she was invited by Flowers Gallery in Hong Kong to present a series of new works in a solo exhibition earlier this year, the artist took it as a chance to question and ruminate on the idea of exercising through her art-making. Its title, I am in training don’t kiss me, is borrowed from French Surrealist Claude Cahun’s self-portraiture, which is a playful examination on gender and sexuality. The exhibition explores ideas such as desire, bodies, queer identities and pain in association with fitness and the culture of the modern gym. Aside from Lau’s signature small-scale, abstract paintings, this new body of works also embodied mixed-media paintings, sculptures and performances. Currently, Lau is working on a new series of large-scale paintings which expands on her interest in physical exercise, and in particular, the concept of pain and pleasure.
Shifting identities and relationships, fragility, home and communities are concepts deliberated in the works of Polam Chan. The artist, who has been living in London since 2017, works across sculptures, film, clay, writing and mixed-media installation. One of his recent works, “Confess…Trying to Reconnect” (2022), takes its starting point from conversations he had with his family in 2021, who were based in Hong Kong at the time before moving to UK this year, where they discussed perspectives of Hong Kong people’s immigration process, including its effects, unknowns, conflicts and challenging moments. Stitching together WhatsApp chats, FaceTime calls, found footage and maps, as well as sculptural elements such as cardboard and Chan’s childhood bed frame, the film installation was exhibited as part of Diaspora: Exhibition of Hong Kong Nationhood, a group show of 11 emerging Hong Kong artists that took place at Lewisham Arthouse in London earlier this year, which Chan also played a role in organising and curating.
Earlier this year, Hong Kong-born artist Sam Ng started painting only in hues of blue and green. “I have unintentionally begun my blue period,” he says, referring to the period in which Pablo Picasso painted monochromatic paintings in shades of blue and blue-green. “I just [suddenly] felt a sentimental affinity to the colour.” Working with a limited palette, the artist focused on experimenting with form and formlessness. In his paintings, subjects seem to pivot between vague representations of everyday objects and equivocal shapes, further imbuing a sense of fragility and precarity.
Perhaps this is a reflection of his ongoing negotiation with his identity and his feelings living in London as a Hongkonger and artist. “I can only observe Hong Kong from a distance as a bystander, and I’m not able to partake in the future of it anymore,” he says. “This has created a sense of alienation for me, like I’m constantly drifting and floating between the two places.” By contending against these intense emotions, Ng creates a unique visual language emblematic of the contradictions of our existence and entanglements.
Recently relocated to London in search for what she says is “freedom, openness and inclusivity,” Hong Kong-born artist Renee Yau had a 15-year career as a graphic designer before transitioning into contemporary art in 2015, a move prompted by Yau’s desire to be more critical and creative with the medium, and to engage more meaningfully with audiences. While her works are constructed by motifs of window panes rendered in seemingly cheerful and brightly coloured graphic lines, the artist’s statement on her work suggests that they serve as deceptive ciphers for more sombre ideas about identity and displacement. Her recent series Relocation consists of extracted fragmented forms and lines of windows grilles, doors, walls and fences from photographs, which she then layers and overlaps onto two-dimensional surfaces using acrylic gouache. Through these works, she seeks to convey the disorientating sensation of our existence, and our complex connection and disconnection with space and time.
Correction: An earlier version of this article misstated Polam Chan’s surname on two occasions. We apologise for the error.