Christy Chow’s De-stitching wins Hong Kong Human Rights Arts Prize 2017.
Justice Centre Hong Kong’s Hong Kong Human Rights Arts Prize (HKHRAP) opens annually to all Hong Kong-based visual artists who submit artwork on the theme of local or international human rights. This year Christy Chow was selected as the winner, with Jennifer Lai Cing Yan and Isaac Chong Wai awarded runner-up prizes.
On 9 December 2017 at Hong Kong’s Blindspot Gallery and the Justice Centre Hong Kong announced Christy Chow as the winner of the Justice Centre Hong Kong’s Hong Kong Human Rights Arts Prize (HKHRAP) prize. Her video and installation piece De-stitching (2014) was selected from a 26 strong shortlist by a panel consisting of judges Claire Hsu, the co-founder of Asia Art Archive; Elaine W. Ng, Publisher and Editor-in-chief of ArtAsiaPacific; Kacey Wong, noted Hong Kong artist; David Schacht, VP of Global Initiatives for National Geographic Society; and Cosmin Costinas, Para Site Executive Director/Curator. On Saturday 9 December, Christy Chow received a trophy hand-forged by Hong Kong artist and member of the judging panel, Kacey Wong, as well as HKD35,000 in prize money.
Since the launch by Justice Centre Hong Kong in 2013, the HKHRAP has played a pivotal role in discovering new talent and encouraging Hong Kong-based artists to explore the state of human rights both at home and abroad. Recurring themes in artworks exhibited and auctioned in previous years include the Occupy movement, homelessness, the plight of refugees, forced labour, ethnic minorities and LGBT rights. Previous winners have included Filipino photographer Xyza Cruz Bacani, Katie Vajda, for her series on domestic workers in Hong Kong and Ducky Chi Tak, with his piece, 3D Jobs, which deals with ethnic minority and labour rights.
Two runners-up and a Director’s Choice also received recognition for their submissions. The first runner up was Isaac Chong Wai for his work The Silent Wall. The second runner up was Jennifer Lai Cing Yan for I Desire and the Director’s Choice was awarded to Magus Yuen Kam Wa for Closet. Co-Founder and Executive Director of Asia Art Archive and judge on the panel Claire Hsu spoke in a press conference about the entries, stating:
Art has the power to speak the unspeakable and give voice to those rendered speechless. The winners of the Human Rights Art Prize this year demonstrate this with works in a wide range of media on issues that touch on the value and abuse of human labour, the deep wounds and scars of war and the ongoing struggle for gender equality.
Art Radar takes a look at the practice of Christy Chow and the winning work.
Winner: De-stitching by Christy Chow
Christy Chow (b. 1983) is a Hong Kong artist whose work often departs from feminist and anti-capitalist theories and perspectives. Her interdisciplinary works span and often combine video installation, interactive sculptures and performance. She often transforms mundane and tacky objects through mismatch of materials, tools and processes to create surprises and new definitions concerning humanity, sustainability and social justice. The winning work, entitled De-stitching (2014), is part of the “Laborland” series. The artist took a shirt that was sewn together by a sweatshop worker in Bangladesh in less than 15 minutes and deconstructed it by removing 3,745 stitches carefully and counting every stitch in Cantonese over four and a half hours. She did this to experience and pay tribute to the labour of the anonymous sweatshop worker, questioning the value of labour in the world of capitalism, and asking if the value of labour can only be measured monetarily. The artist explains on her website:
“Laborland” is a dystopia and an amusement park where labor and play converge. I began this project by deconstructing a GAP shirt that was sewn together in 15 minutes by removing 3745 stitches in 4.5 hours. The latest “attraction” of “Laborland” is “Come, Run in Me,” an interactive video installation where participates are encouraged to run inside the wheel in order to slave the worker in vieo projected on the wheel.
First Runner-up: The Silent Wall, Isaac Chong Wai
Isaac Chong Wai is a Berlin-based artist from Hong Kong, who works with diverse media, including performance, site-specific installation, public art, video, photography and multimedia. He engages themes of collectivism and individualism, politics of time and space, border, migration, war, militarism, racism, identity politics, LGBTQ, public sphere and human rights. The acclaimed performance and video work Silent Wall was produced after the artist visited Sarajevo and came across the bullet holes in the city walls left unrepaired as a chilling reminder of the Bosnian war (1992 – 1995). The artist writes on his website about the work:
I was in Sarajevo and I saw bullet holes everywhere in the city. I wondered what attitude we should have towards these wounds from the war. I had asked numerous Bosnians most of whom told me ‘These are not a taboo of our city. Since we live here, we don’t pay attention to these holes. They are part of our city.’ Dealing with the wounds on walls, I would not add or remove anything from the walls inasmuch as the holes, certainly, are the memorial itself of a brutal history. By then, I decided to use performance as a medium to approach the untouchable memories.
Second Runner-up: I Desire, Jennifer Lai Cing Yan
Jennifer Lai Cing Yan is an artist who also employs a mix of video, performance and installation strategies in her work. Over the last few years the Hong Kong-based artist has been researching the sex industry in Hong Kong, compiling interviews with sex workers as well as constructing a portfolio of impressionistic and ethnographic notes. Speaking about her installation work I Desire (2017), which was selected as runner-up, the artist stated:
My initiative is based on the lack of awareness and recognition of the sex workers. They are living an underprivileged life. By adopting part of the protesting slogan from the recent Umbrella Movement, the two Chinese characters explicitly show what I Desire. The light installation uses pink neon tubes, which symbolise the present brothels of the city, through which I am trying to find angle to investigate where the workers can be represented.
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