For many Hong Kongers, their city has always been distinct from China. Government, laws, language, schooling, cuisine, culture, outlook — you name it, all different.
And that sense, coupled with continuing political changes, propelled many Hong Kongers to emigrate after the 2019 pro-democracy protests when Beijing implemented the far-reaching Hong Kong version of China’s National Security Law. Even in the law that tightens Beijing’s control over the former British colony, Hong Kong is different.
Helen, an artist, left Hong Kong for New York last year.
Her work is now part of show called “Wandering Hong Kong” mounted by the Lion Rock Cafe in lower Manhattan near Chinatown. The exhibition, which runs through Sunday at the Sohotel pop-up space on Broome Street, explores what it means to be “wandering” — defined as “a life with no place to settle down, needing to move around” in promotional material.
An art teacher and full-time artist in Hong Kong, Helen met her boyfriend during the 2019 Hong Kong protests.
“But as the movement went on, we realized there are concerns, there is something there that we cannot draw. Or we can draw it, but we cannot show it. So, what’s the point? That just got many of us to thinking: What’s the next step for us?” said Helen, who asked VOA Mandarin not to use her full name to avoid attracting Beijing’s attention.
For Helen and her boyfriend, the next step meant heading to New York City.
Understanding through art
In New York, she joined Lion Rock Cafe, an organization modeled on a French salon with no fixed location but a focus on “deepening understanding and solidarity between the United States and Hong Kong through arts and culture,” according to its website.
Lion Rock Cafe is now hosting the exhibition “Wandering Hong Kong,” a show of art by Helen and other Hong Kong artists who belong to a diaspora perched throughout the U.S., U.K., Taiwan and Canada.
“Wandering Hong Kong” exhibited dozens of works in various media paintings, installation art and videos.
The show’s organizer told VOA Mandarin that since 2019 more than 100,000 Hong Kongers have emigrated or gone into exile to avoid living under Beijing’s rule.
“Hong Kongers have become a vagrant group,” said Dan, who asked that his full name not be used. “We want to express this wandering mentality, simply saying that there is no home, or the feeling of leaving home, and express it with art, and let Hong Kong artists freely express some of their ideas and works of art in this free land.”
“It was shocking,” Dan said. “Some political dissidents have the strongest feelings of wandering, and they can empathize with it the most. So when they use art to express it, through some patterns and their works, they can better feel the feeling of leaving Hong Kong with some burdens, regrets, some apprehensions, and maybe some worries about the future. Those emotions are also reflected in the works.”
Tommy, another Hong Konger who is now a New York artist, was inspired by the moment he said goodbye to family and friends, according to Dan.
Tommy’s work reflects the three very deep and formal bows many Hong Kongers made rather than voicing farewell.
Helen said, “The feeling of leaving my hometown, I would say, is complicated. It’s hard to express with a few words, because it’s so much mixed feelings and emotions into that decision.”
Would she return? Helen replied that “at this moment, we are not sure if it would be a good choice, a good decision to ever go back to Hong Kong.”