Jul 24 2013

Hong Kong Mall Censors Farm Art

by Katherine Tong

SIU HAK taking down his drawings at “Visiting Our Farms” exhibition, Hong Kong, 2013. Courtesy House News.

Last week at Hong Kong’s Tuen Mun Town Plaza, an art exhibition was forced to shut when materials deemed as “sensitive” were removed by Sino Group—a major land developer and the shopping mall’s proprietor—just hours before its opening.  

“Visiting Our Farms,” a group exhibition curated by the YMCArts in Education Project, was intended to bring an agricultural experience to urbanites.  Despite its seemingly innocuous subject matter, the exhibition became caught up in the current debate concerning the Hong Kong government’s plan to develop rural districts into new towns in order to cope with over-population.

On the exhibition’s opening day, local illustrator Siu Hak found that one of his drawings had been removed by the mall’s management without prior approval from either himself or the curating team. Other items in the exhibition, including labels and image captions that contained reflections on village life, were also removed or censored.

“I think the main concern here is the conflict between commerce and art,” the artist reflected, in conversation with ArtAsiaPacific. This is not the first time Siu Hak’s artistic creations have been subject to commercial intervention. In a show he organized at another shopping mall at Christmas time, his plan to exhibit monochrome panda sculptures was thwarted when it was criticized for not being “Christmassy enough.”

This time the drawing in question is part of a series entitled “Lung Foo Rap” (2013), which features the artist’s signature cartoon pandas talking in rhyme, expounding on the virtues of maintaining a healthy balance between rural living and city development.  The series comments on the destruction of nature for the sake of urbanization. It was this prose that was considered “too sensitive” by the mall’s management team. 

“The shopping mall management team considers that they have the final say as the venue is under their control. There is actually no room for negotiation,” the artist remarked.

Despite negotiations, Siu Hak refused to exhibit the rest of his series, considering the work incomplete without the removed drawing. Following suit, other participating artists, including painters Wilson Shieh and Lam Tung Pang, walked out of the exhibition, taking their works with them.

It remains uncertain as to whether the exhibition will resume at another venue as all works are still bound by contractual exclusivity.

Katherine Tong is a researcher at ArtAsiaPacific.

SIU HAK, Lung Foo Rap, 2013, ink on paper mounted on wooden board, series of 20, 26 × 26 cm each. Courtesy the artist.