Wednesday, March 18, 2009


I covered this year's Art Walk on Mar 11. Here's inside Osage Gallery, Soho:

Hong Kong artist Wilson Shieh's exhibition "Chow Yun Fat's Fitting Room" reflects on how culture takes on different guises--and subsequently changes--in the media. The process begins with the Hong Kong superstar stripped bare and continues with his evolving personas, along his gradual (and incomplete) immersion in the global cinema.

The show surprises the viewers for its demystifying the cultural icon. Chow's images--much loved and revered by the Hong Kong audience and film industry--are torn apart, laid on cardboards like possessions to claim or to discard at will. The artist's choices of mediums--acrylic, crayon, graphite, collage of prints--accentuate the toy-like touch, a hint of mock innocence. There opens up a gap between the spectators' ideal of Chow and their new-found perception. For some it may stir a feeling of confusion or even discomfort, since the artist's reflection has a subversive undertone.

The choice of Chow Yun Fat is apt for his international renown and Hong Kong people's sense of possession of the actor--the disassociation in the show can poke fun at the local audience's claims: "He's our star."

If the idea of fame disintegrates somewhat in these images, the exhibition still celebrates the star actor and the city's love for him. On my two visits to the show--on its opening night and during ArtWalk--the gallery was packed with both local and expatriate spectators, examining the metamorphosis of media and culture and the artist's craft. "Chow Yun Fat's Fitting Room" also marks Shieh's departure from his usual Chinese fine brush (gongbi) on silk and paper, though his meditated strokes remain on page.

This year's ArtWalk also featured the Cage Home Exhibition by the Society for Community and Community Organization, the benefiting charity of the event's ticket sales.

(photo courtesy of SoCO)

For those of you who don't live in Hong Kong, cage homes--along with other cubicles and small partitioned flats--are accommodation for many living under the poverty line. Each resident lives in between 15 to 24 square feet, which are typically infested with mice and fleas. They keep their personal belongings--including cooking utilities--in their tiny cages, and share a bathroom with up to 30 other residents in the same unit. There're frequent stories of residents spilling hot water or soup onto their 'roommates' in the lower cages.

The rent of these horrid spaces is HK$30 (USD$3.9) per square foot on average. According to government statistics, there're nearly 100,000 people who live in these houses in Hong Kong, including low-income sanitation workers, new immigrants, the lonely elderly, and those living on the fringe of society.

Mr Jiang (pictured) was once a street hawker of fishballs and animals' entrails, until the business declined after the government stopped renewing hawker's licenses in the 1980's. Odd jobs didn't last long, and it became increasingly difficult for Jiang to find work in his 50's. Now 62, Jiang lives in a cage home with a dozen other residents and suffers bedbugs' bites on daily basis. Since there is no kitchen in the unit, everyone buys take-away food and Jiang only eats twice a day to save money.

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