Hong Kong Human Rights Arts Prize 2015 opens for submissions

The third edition of the prize calls upon Hong Kong’s creative community to shine a light upon those in need. 

The Hong Kong Human Rights Arts Prize aims to raise awareness through visual art, acting upon the belief that art can bring about significant social change.

Xyza Bacani, 'BURN', 2013, photograph, 31 x 47cm, edition 1/10. Image courtesy the artist and Hong Kong Human Rights Arts Prize/Justice Centre Hong Kong.

Xyza Cruz Bacani, ‘BURN’, 2013, photograph, 31 x 47 cm, edition 1/10. Image courtesy the artist and Hong Kong Human Rights Arts Prize/Justice Centre Hong Kong.

The Justice Centre Hong Kong, a charity protecting the rights of forced migrants, is calling for entries for the Hong Kong Human Rights Arts Prize 2015. The deadline for submissions on the theme of ‘human rights’ is on 20 September 2015. Accepted media include photography, painting, prints, digital work and video.

A panel of prominent art experts and human rights specialists will shortlist artworks, to be sold at a charity auction in December 2015, when the winner of the prize will also be announced and awarded HKD30,000. Shortlisted artists are encouraged to donate their works to the charity, as auction proceeds will be used to support the work of the Justice Centre to protect human rights of refugees and survivors of human trafficking.

RiK Yu, 'A Somatic Dialogue', 2013, series of 5 videos, edition 1/5. Image courtesy the artist and Hong Kong Human Rights Arts Prize/Justice Centre Hong Kong.

RiK Yu, ‘A Somatic Dialogue’, 2013, series of 5 videos, edition 1/5. Image courtesy the artist and Hong Kong Human Rights Arts Prize/Justice Centre Hong Kong.

One of a kind in Hong Kong

The Hong Kong Human Rights Arts Prize is now in its third edition and was founded in 2013 by the Hong Kong Refugee Advice Centre, known as the Justice Centre Hong Kong since 2014. The Prize provides a platform for young, Hong Kong-based artists to explore issues surrounding human rights through visual art, thus also raising awareness about these problems amongst the public.

In the press release for the 2015 announcement, Adela Kamaragoda of Justice Centre Hong Kong, says (PDF download):

This is the only arts prize of its kind in Hong Kong, and through it, I hope we can give artists a platform to put the spotlight on issues they are passionate about that affect the rights of Hongkongers and those further afield.

In 2014, the Human Rights Arts Prize focused on the theme of ‘modern slavery and human trafficking’. The Prize received over 40 entries from Hong Kong-based artists of diverse origins, coming from as far as Finland, Cameroon, Zimbabwe, Australia, Sri Lanka and the Philippines. The judging panel included artist and activist Kacey Wong, Claire Hsu – the founder and director of Asia Art Archive (AAA) – and Kevin Zervos, a Judge of the High Court in Hong Kong.

Katie Vajda, 'Can you see me yet?', 2014, series of 2 photographs, 76 x 50cm each, edition 1/6. Xyza Bacani, 'BURN', 2013, photograph, 31 x 47cm, edition 1/10. Image courtesy the artist and Hong Kong Human Rights Arts Prize/Justice Centre Hong Kong.

Katie Vajda, ‘Can You See Me Yet?’, 2014, series of 2 photographs, 76 x 50cm each, edition 1/6. Image courtesy the artist and Hong Kong Human Rights Arts Prize/Justice Centre Hong Kong.

The 16 shortlisted artists and the winner of the second edition of the prize, Katie Vajda, were announced on International Human Rights Day, on 10 December 2014, during an exhibition and Christie’s charity auction at Sundaram Tagore Gallery.

The winner of the Justice Centre Choice Award, Xyza Cruz Bacani, emerged as a notable new talent. A former domestic worker turned award-winning photographer, she claimed the prize with her image of a domestic worker with her back burnt by soup – who had been denied medical attention by her employer. Bacani was quoted as saying in the 2015 call for entries press release:

Through this Prize I could plant seeds of awareness among the public, so they can’t ignore the abuse that happens behind closed doors. By raising awareness, slowly we can bring about change. I would encourage artists to enter the Hong Kong Human Rights Arts Prize as it is a way of focusing on the issues they care about, and making them mainstream. These issues are underreported and unknown, so it is important to raise awareness of them.

Tiff Chan and Shawn Griffin, 'Bless the souls who made our clothes', 2014, series of 3 archival inkjet prints on Hahnemühle pearl paper, 18 x 25cm each, edition 1/1. Image courtesy the artist and Hong Kong Human Rights Arts Prize/Justice Centre Hong Kong.

Tiff Chan and Shawn Griffin, ‘Bless the Souls Who Made Our Clothes’, 2014, series of 3 archival inkjet prints on Hahnemühle pearl paper, 18 x 25cm each, edition 1/1. Image courtesy the artist and Hong Kong Human Rights Arts Prize/Justice Centre Hong Kong.

Art that can change the world

Last year’s Prize coincided with a highly-charged time in Hong Kong’s political and social climate. The Umbrella Movement saw a great surge in people’s participation in activism, and artists’ involvement in the protests resulted in the creation of significant artworks in favour of democracy. The 2014 protests also marked a time when, according to a PEN report (PDF download), the freedom and diversity of expression in the Hong Kong press was being further imperilled.

Kacey Wong, who has been a judge for the Prize since its inception, was active during the Umbrella Movement and used his social networks to create action through art. In a 2014 press release (PDF download), where Wong called for support for the Prize from the artistic community, the artist was quoted as saying:

I believe art can change the world. Art doesn’t really solve the problem but it brings forward the problem. Art arouses emotion towards the problem; when enough attention is created, the problem might eventually be resolved. Be it photography, a flag, or a song that was sung in a rally, art has its place and it is one of the best weapons that will free us and bring positive change to the world.

C. A. Xuan Mai Ardia

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Related Topics: emerging artists, Hong Kong artists, art prizes, art and the community, socially engaged art, art and activism, art awards, events in Hong Kong, news

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