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China Daily

Focus> Offbeat HK> Content
Monday, December 31, 2018, 17:51
Not just for art’s sake
By Wang Yuke
Monday, December 31, 2018, 17:51 By Wang Yuke

Beyond the artistic impulse, women turn to art to find relief from stress, communicate more effectively and broaden their horizons. Wang Yuke talks to six women who find solace through art

Stella Zhang’s solo exhibition entitled “Translution” is a statement for women’s power and identity. (PHOTO PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY)

Helen Pun is a banker-turned artist. She demonstrates her versatility in a wide range of disciplines from ink painting to acrylic and oil painting, not to mention sculpture, ceramics and new media installations. She also runs a fashion studio specializing in tailor-made garments. Pun gave up a sought-after high-paying finance job 26 years ago to practice art full-time. “My friends were shocked when they heard the news. They thought I must be crazy,” recalls Pun. But she has never regretted making the decision, and considers it life-changing.

“I have to look after my bed-ridden and tube-fed mother. It’s overwhelmingly painful to see your loved one suffer while you can do little to help her recover. It hurts.” Art offers her a sanctuary, a temporary relief from the stress. “If I hadn’t chosen art, I’m sure I would have developed depression,” she says.

Pun draws inspiration for her art from her sick mother. One of the installation works included in her 2015 Space and Motion solo exhibition was a translucent brain-shaped structure. When people walk past it, the brain turns from black to fluorescent green, giving off a whiff of smoke. “It sends an alert to people that the ‘three-pound universe’ (brain) is a central organ. If it goes wrong, everything could fall apart,” explains Pun.

She says she finds art therapeutic, as it requires intense concentration and full commitment. Art helps take her mind off her troubles as well as bring her satisfaction and joy. While in banking she worked in a group, she now enjoys working alone. “Creating a piece of art is like creating your own baby,” she says. “The art work belongs only to you. The end product has your own trademark and that’s your true identity.” 

Doll artist Lau Ning realizes that art helps her better fulfil the roles of a business woman, single mother and an artist. (PHOTO PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY)

Doll artist Lau Ning realizes that art helps her better fulfil the roles of a business woman, single mother and an artist. (PHOTO PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY)

Doll artist Lau Ning realizes that art helps her better fulfil the roles of a business woman, single mother and an artist. (PHOTO PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY)

Dolls with character

Lau Ning is an established doll artist, business woman and single mother. Wearing more than one hat, Lau often feels burnt-out physically and emotionally. “Being an entrepreneur in the city is already difficult,” she says. “It’s still harder to do business as a woman.” Women are judged on their appearance and objectified, she says. However, she tries taking such daily hazards in her stride and be a positive role model for her son. When she feels overwhelmed and stressed, she goes to her studio, often spending a whole night crafting dolls. “Art lets me forget about stress, immerse in the ‘me’ moment,” she says. She gives her handmade dolls distinctive characters — some of them bear imprints of the stressful modern life. She would like to believe there’s at least one doll in her collection that each woman will be able to relate to.

Stella Zhang’s solo exhibition entitled “Translution” is a statement for women’s power and identity. (PHOTO PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY)

Stella Zhang’s solo exhibition entitled “Translution” is a statement for women’s power and identity. (PHOTO PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY)

Resilient and tough

Beijing-born and US-based artist Stella Zhang says her art defines her, giving her an identity distinct from pigeonholed being a mother or wife. 

For three years after giving birth to her daughter in Japan, Zhang did not touch her paint brush. “I became a full-time housewife as the way society expects. I was fully occupied with looking after my child, but couldn’t reconcile myself to the fact I had to give up painting.” She moved to the US with her family in 2003 where she found the society “more culturally inclusive”, and started painting again. 

Her last solo exhibition in Galerie du Monde was entitled “Translution”, coined by collapsing the words “transparent evolution”. It featured a site-specific installation made of black aluminum wires. The wires are both pliable and prickly, suggesting tenderness, vulnerability and the urge to protect the self — qualities often associated with women.  The works on white canvas displayed on the walls were slit open, knotted, pleated or pulled, the suggestion being that women shouldn’t be treated as objects for sexual pleasure. 

Elly Wan uses art as a channel to talk to her father. (PHOTO PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY)

Elly Wan uses art as a channel to talk to her father. (PHOTO PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY)

Papa can you hear me?

Elly Wan Sheung-wah, 29, studied fine art in the UK and came back to Hong Kong after graduation in 2014. On her return she found the spirit of aggression that seemed to prevail at the time quite jarring. “Social media platforms are teeming with negativities,” she says. 

What also bothered her was her difficult relationship with her father. In a pair of works, Wan painted a father cuddling his little daughter closely to his chest while the matching piece portrays a man standing in the distance showing only his back.  “My father and I talk less and less. It seems there’s a thick wall between us,” says Wan, adding that they both seem to lack in the department of communication. Art, therefore, is her primary outlet for giving expression to emotions and saving her from depression. 

The turmoil within finds expression in pictures depicting calm. For instance, her oil painting Swimming Pool is done in different shades of blue, to an anesthetizing effect, which contrasts dramatically with her perception of the hustle and noise of the city. 

Practicing art allows locally born emerging artist Chan Tsz-kwan to rub shoulders with veteran artists. (PHOTO PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY)

From artist to gallerist

Hong Kong-born artist Chan Tsz-kwan says that practicing art enables her to meet high-brow and intelligent people. The connections thus made helped her launch BLINK Gallery at the age of 28. Practicing art also helps raise her self-esteem. “Having others like and collect my artworks make me feel worthwhile and appreciated,” says Chan, whose works have been exhibited 30 times around the globe. “In Jakarta, they respect artists a lot. Visitors who admired my art liked to shake hands and take photos with me. And in the UK, they support artists in different ways. Our artworks can be found in local cafes, libraries and shops.”

Finance-turned young artist Fiona Chan finds art broadening her mind and vision. (PHOTO PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY)

Spread the good art

Emerging artist Fiona Chan of gallery Art Tu says switching from a career in finance to art has broadened her horizons. “I have become intrigued by art history, the making of art in various mediums, the art market operations and the contemporary art scene. I find myself more open to new ideas, more interested and also concerned about social issues.”

When she started painting in her spare time, Chan was surprised to find the practice helped get rid of stress accumulated in day-to-day life and work. “When I am painting, I find myself focused on my art and forgetting about all other irrelevant matters.” Deciding to paint full-time, she enrolled in Hong Kong Art School and emerged with a diploma in fine art.

She believes art doesn’t discriminate and is accessible to everyone, and she has been convincing her friends to give it a try. “More and more of my friends are now interested to learn about art, see art and even make art themselves on different mediums,” she says.

Contact the writer at jenny@chinadailyhk.com


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