Published: 19:29, November 30, 2022 | Updated: 19:32, November 30, 2022
Curation key to HK becoming a hub for art and cultural exchanges
By Paul Yeung

The national 14th Five-Year Plan (2021-25) unveiled by the central government in 2021 designated Hong Kong as a future hub for art and cultural exchanges between China and the rest of the world. Having a new strategic vision to pursue, the financial city has started to take up another entirely different role in the cultural front, and the phrase “culture and arts” has become increasingly visible on Hong Kong’s public agenda.

The general perception of the new role centers around the trade of artifacts and antiquities in Hong Kong. In 2020, the city boasted the second-largest auction market in the world, with a total transaction value of HK$33.6 billion ($4.3 billion) for art collections and antiques. Nonetheless, the essence of a hub for art and cultural exchanges between China and the rest of the world is far more than that.

Integrating into the national development is to let Hong Kong develop in lockstep with national strategies. Thus, Hong Kong must go by the country’s cultural strategy when it comes to positioning itself as a hub for cultural exchange. Last month, the central government issued the cultural development plan for the period of the 14th Five-Year Plan, indicating that one of the focus areas is to deepen cultural exchanges. The plan calls for coordinated efforts to promote the country’s external publicity, cultural exchanges and cultural trade, and enhance the country’s image and cultural influence for the sake of building stronger people-to-people bonds and cultural connectivity with the rest of the world. Hence, cultural trade is just one of the means to accomplish the greater purpose of expanding cultural influence and enhancing cultural exchanges between the country and the rest of the world.

With more cultural bridges built, Hong Kong will play a key role in promoting people-to-people connectivity

Culture constitutes the soft power of a country, and one of its manifestations is artwork and exhibits that embody the cultural spirit of a civilization. As these cultural products are often an enigma for many, the participation of professionals like curators is crucial. Indeed, the selection of exhibits, their spatial installation, lighting and thematic narratives is the professional scope of a curator. Each curator has his or her unique interpretation of the art collections and their displays.

Curation in Hong Kong has always been among the best in the world. The distinctive cultural heritage of Hong Kong, its linkages with both the Chinese and foreign civilizations, and its open and innovative spirit will become an essential part of this East-meets-West hub for international cultural exchanges. What defines an excellent curator is his or her ability to understand Chinese arts and mastery of foreign languages that enable him or her to display the country’s artistic and cultural prowess to international audiences.

Hong Kong is in a good position to take its art and culture curation to the next level. Although small, the city houses 14 museums and three cultural spaces, with the West Kowloon Cultural District being the new flagship. Besides, local shopping malls have added substantial artistic elements in their interior design, and some revitalized historic sites have become new landmarks of arts and culture. Infrastructure aside, Hong Kong also has strong ties with the Chinese-mainland and overseas museums, and various cooperation agreements have been signed to allow more Chinese and foreign art pieces to be on display in the city.

The direction of curation in Hong Kong should align with the strategic goal of becoming a hub for arts and cultural exchanges. Efforts should be dedicated to grooming more curators who are up on Chinese arts and culture. On the one hand, the city will also need to strengthen ties with Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, and other cities to explore collaborative opportunities with their counterparts in those cities; on the other hand, it should offer incentives to attract world-class curators to hold exhibitions in Hong Kong, which provide opportunities for cultural exchanges, and thus deepening their understanding of Chinese culture. With more cultural bridges built, Hong Kong will play a key role in promoting people-to-people connectivity.

The author is senior research officer of the One Country Two Systems Research Institute.

The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.