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  • Oct 21, 2020

Hong Kong Exhibition Criticized For Whitewashing Displacement Of Homeless

“Heart of Cyberpunk,” which is funded by the Hong Kong Tourism Commission, is being held at a flyover where homeless people were cleared by police in 2019. Image of Cyberpunk Bruce Lee

A government-funded outdoor exhibition that opened on October 17 in the Tung Chau Street Temporary Market in Hong Kong’s Sham Shui Po district, one of the poorest neighborhoods, has drawn criticism among local online commentators as well as artists, critics, and curators over concerns regarding gentrification and homelessness.

Organized by the Hong Kong Design Center (HKDC) under their three-year Design District Hong Kong (ddHK) project—which is supported by the government’s Tourism Commission—the fashion exhibition “Heart of Cyberpunk” was staged beneath a flyover where homeless people stayed until their forced removal by police in February 2019. Homeless people alleged that police had assaulted them and destroyed their huts and personal effects; nine officers were arrested but not charged. The incident came up in the news recently after one of the homeless people involved, Le Van Muoi, was found dead on October 9 of an apparent suicide in his jail cell, where he was being held for drug possession.

Members of the local arts community slammed the exhibition on social media. Critic Evelyn Char wrote on Facebook that “it is impossible to ignore what happened in the neighborhood,” and criticized the ddHK team for its lack of sensitivity. Replying to Char’s post, artist and independent curator Wong Ka Ying called for a boycott of the exhibition, which she characterized as “a means for the government to whitewash their actions” against the homeless population in the area last year. Artist South Ho Siu Nam pointed out the irony of holding a cyberpunk-themed exhibition, writing: “The community of Sham Shui Po has always been a place of ‘high-tec, low-life,’ [sic] . . . it is a life of common people, and it is difficult, but it is full of strength and vibrancy. I’d rather go enjoy a herbal tea or visit the market instead of going to the exhibition.”

Some online commentators suspected that the ddHK team were involved in the government’s decision to clear the homeless encampment, especially as the HKDC has plans to launch “a design and fashion base” in the neighborhood. By the end of Saturday, ddHK’s official Facebook page was flooded with criticism by the general public. ddHK responded in a now-deleted post that the team “has no ability to influence or induce the government departments to clear the homeless people,” and that there was “no causal relationship” between the government’s action and the exhibition. 

Curated by fashion designer Eugene Leung, “Heart of Cyberpunk” includes a series of talks and guided tours on the “cyberpunk” aspects of Hong Kong. The exhibition is on view until October 25. 

Pamela Wong is ArtAsiaPacific’s assistant editor.

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