Installation views of ANTHONY FAN KAR LONG’s “My Portrait Diary: 18 Children” at the Jockey Club Community Art Centre, Hong Kong, 2020. All images courtesy the artist.

Speak When Spoken To – Anthony Fan’s “My Portrait Diary: 18 Children”

Jockey Club Creative Art Centre
Hong Kong

After stepping into the courtyard at Hong Kong’s Jockey Club Creative Art Centre where Anthony Fan Kar Long’s photography exhibition was hung, visitors found themselves surrounded by 18 portraits, each depicting a child gazing directly at viewers. Half of the images were captured at a protest on June 9, 2019, when an estimated one million people took to the streets of Hong Kong to oppose a tabled extradition bill. The other nine photos were taken later that year on December 8, at a rally against a law prohibiting citizens from obscuring their faces at public gatherings. The works, all snapped with the permission of the minor’s guardians, prompt the question: What roles do children play in social movements?

On the right side of the exhibition were the bare-faced, young activists Fan met in June, all dressed in white, short-sleeve shirts. They contrast the figures on the left, whom Fan met in December, wearing dark clothing and face coverings as barriers to tear gas and to protect their identities. Though both groups were at relatively peaceful marches, the difference in the children’s gear reflects the general escalation of the crisis, which grew increasingly violent, and reveals the growing fear among protestors as arrests at political events became more frequent and indiscriminate.

ANTHONY FAN KAR LONG, June 9 #1 and #2, from the series June 9: The Last Autumn Leaves with Freedom?, 2019, blockout vinyl, 1.2 × 1.8 m.
ANTHONY FAN KAR LONG, June 9 #1 and #2, from the series June 9: The Last Autumn Leaves with Freedom?, 2019, blockout vinyl, 1.2 × 1.8 m.

Yet, from the portraits, it is unclear how much the children themselves understood of the possible risks, and whether they chose to take part out of their own volition or their parents’ wishes. As the social movement evolved to tackle not just the extradition bill but the issue of Hong Kong’s autonomy and political future, so too did the role of children become more complex. It was not an uncommon sight to see children shouting "Liberate Hong Kong, revolution of our time” from their parents’ shoulders at rallies. People applauded these children, enshrining them as symbols for a better future, and cementing them as the impetus for this very “revolution.” But besides acting as symbols, what political agency do children have? 

Ironically, at Fan’s show, the subjects of the works were mute and confined within a courtyard, suggesting their entrapment. The number 18 in the exhibition title, “My Portrait Diary: 18 Children,” refers not just to the number of displayed portraits, but also to the age when minors legally become adults. Until then, their freedom rests on whether adults can learn to listen.

Anthony Fan Kar Long’s “My Portrait Diary: 18 Children” is on view at the Jockey Club Creative Art Centre, Hong Kong, until June 9, 2020.

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