Hong Kong artists’ Shenzhen exhibitions look at cities’ shared anxieties to show how art connects people regardless of geographical boundaries

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The code Law uses in the piece’s title refers to catalogue numbers of a captivating collection of photographs housed at the National Archives in the UK that document the British exploration of their newly acquired territory.

The entrance to “Blue Throat: Acclimated Difference (Part 2)” at Shenzhen’s Hexagon Gallery. Photo: Hexagon Gallery
The artist, who splits her time between Hong Kong and Japan, uses photographs taken from Hong Kong looking over the border at Shenzhen.

The sepia images focus on the hills in Shenzhen, the river that separates the two cities, and the green valley that forms the northernmost part of Hong Kong. This deliberate division hints at the different, yet connected, destinies of the two places, a theme that runs through the exhibition.

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Law’s works are being shown together with others by Hong Kong-based Wong Shun-yu, an ink painter who also uses different media to depict the extraordinary within the ordinary.

In the piece Some Memories About the Sea (2021), Wong, who is a graduate of Hong Kong Baptist University and Beijing’s Central Academy of Fine Arts, has captured the displacement of a fishing village – a symbol of Hong Kong’s identity – using photographs and a video.

As the fishing industry declines, villagers abandon their ancestral homes for city jobs, leaving behind generations of memories. Deserted temples and houses are all that remain.

Chris Wan, the curator behind the “Blue Throat” exhibition series, which debuted at Hong Kong’s Art Central in April, says the title comes from the Hindu legend of Samudra Manthana.

The gods were churning the ocean in search of an elixir of immortality but the result was a poison which threatened to annihilate everything. Shiva saved the day by swallowing the poison, but it left him with a blue throat that would continue to burn forever.

While unintended consequences and the struggle between dualities are fitting symbols for Hong Kong’s post- 2019 society, Wan says that the Shenzhen exhibition, which comprises two parts, can appeal to the audience on a more general level.
A section of “Blue Throat: Acclimated Difference (Part 2)”. The exhibition’s curator, Chris Wan, says its title is inspired by Hindu mythology. Photo: Hexagon Gallery

“Even if they disagree on everything,” Wan says, “people on both sides of the political divide share similar personal experiences.” He hopes to use art as a bridge to transcend ideological boundaries.

Wan has ambitious plans for “Blue Throat”, with Tokyo as the next stop and Europe and the United States in sight.

“Now when we discuss the situations in Hong Kong, the cultural context it faces is too exclusive, and it has many restrictions. There needs to be some cross-cultural discussion.”

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He believes Hong Kong’s current political climate stifles open discussion, making cross-cultural dialogue essential.

By showing Hong Kong art in the context of the Chinese diaspora, for example, he hopes that people can find common ground through art and come to an understanding beyond immediate conflicts.

A few blocks away, another Hong Kong artist, Natalie Lo Lai-lai, presents “As Shards of Dawn Shot Through the Dark” at Enclave Contemporary.

A piece of video art by Natalie Lo Lai-lai on show at “As Shards of Dawn Shot Through the Dark”. Photo: Natalie Lo
Lo’s works, initially informed by her involvement in the anti-Hong Kong Express Rail Link (Anti-XRL) movement and based on her own experience as a farmer facing a daily struggle against climate change and aggressive urban development, often offer a poignant political commentary. The movement opposed construction of the high-speed rail line from Hong Kong to Shenzhen in 2009 and 2010.

Her new works, spanning photography, painting, video and installation, can be seen to reflect issues very much on the mind of Hong Kong audiences.

For example, A Messenger – Passerby In Our Battlefields (2022-23) delves into the loss of natural habitat, as well as migration, at a time when Hong Kong has witnessed its largest exodus in years.

“A Messenger – Passerby in Our Battlefields” (2023), by Natalie Lo Lai-lai, at “As Shards of Dawn Shot Through the Dark” exhibition. Photo: Natalie Lo
The video artwork features diverse bird species, from migratory mountain dwellers to pigeons. A narrative mentions the Dutch word vliegend, which means being in the air, and how it brings to mind the mythical bird without feet touched on in Hong Kong director Wong Kar-wai’s Days of Being Wild.

But Lo’s voice in the video counters: “No bird truly flies forever. They must touch the earth, seek food, and build nests.”

During a recent artist tour, a visitor from Guangzhou said she had a strong emotional connection to Lo’s work. The video’s message of resilience and staking claim to one’s homeland resonated with the struggles of her own life, she said.

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While Lo is best known for her video work, she says she has rediscovered her passion for painting recently as she seeks more spontaneity in her artistic expression.

“Sometimes I will jump between editing video and painting. These paintings are not necessary for showing; it allows me to think outside of the box and be as jumpy as I want.”

These two exhibitions, brimming with rich narratives and thought-provoking art, spark dialogue beyond cultural limitations and divides.

The messages present in Lo’s works in her exhibition “As Shards of Dawn Shot Through the Dark” have resonated with Chinese visitors to the exhibition. Photo: Natalie Lo

They show the power of art to foster understanding and connection, reminding us that shared humanity transcends geographical boundaries and societal constraints.

“Blue Throat: Acclimated Difference (Part 2)”, Hexagon Gallery, Hexagon Gallery, 206, A4, North district, OCT-LOFT, Nanshan district, Shenzhen. Until January 14, 2024.

“Natalie Lo Lai-lai: As Shards of Dawn Shot Through the Dark”, Enclave Contemporary, 1/F East, B4, North district, OCT-LOFT, Nanshan district, Shenzhen. Until January 6, 2024.

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