Hello Kitty enters realms of art and nostalgia

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 18 August, 2005, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 18 August, 2005, 12:00am

From toys to household products and trendy graphics, fans of Hong Kong's favourite mouthless cartoon character will be wooed by a comprehensive exhibition that promises a trip down memory lane.

Hide and Seek is Hong Kong's first large-scale exhibition to celebrate the 30th birthday of Japan's most recognised cartoon character, Hello Kitty.

Louis Yu Kwok-lit, executive director of the Hong Kong Arts Centre, the exhibition venue, said the Hello Kitty phenomenon was more than a commercial fad.

'It's an important cultural symbol,' said Mr Yu. 'Over the past 30 years, Hello Kitty evolved from being merely a character of certain commodities to becoming part of our lives. It moved on from selling products to being part of the pop culture to taking up space in museums.'

The exhibition, occupying three floors, is part of the year-long celebration named the 'Nakayoku Project' launched around the world in November, Hello Kitty's birthday. The Japanese word nakayoku means friendship and affection.

Hiro Nishino, deputy general manager of Sanrio (HK), said Hong Kong people's affection for Hello Kitty was due to the character's quiet, if malleable, personality.

'Hello Kitty has a character that reflects your feelings, rather than telling you what it feels,' said Mr Nishino. 'Lots of cartoon characters have a strong outline trying to tell you what they are. But Hello Kitty has this soft outline. It makes the owner feel important.' Hello Kitty was first drafted in 1974 as a character that lives in London with her family. The first line of the products was launched in 1975.

According to Sanrio's website, Hello Kitty doesn't have a mouth because she 'speaks from her heart. She is Sanrio's ambassador to the world who isn't bound to one certain language'.

Each year Sanrio produces 50,000 products globally.

Entering the exhibition hall, visitors walk into Hello Kitty's London home, where her garden, pink living room and bathroom are filled with Hello Kitty products.

It showcases more than 300 items ranging from originals from the 1970s and early 80s such as TV sets, phones and shower head to latest designs.

A limited-edition 'detective style' Hello Kitty was launched especially for the Hong Kong show.

Katie Liu Hin-kar, 26, a hard-core fan who has collected the products since she was in Primary One, has part of her collection displayed at the exhibition.

'It's not just toys for children. It can be hip and trendy,' she said.

'I think Hong Kong people prefer Hello Kitty to Disney characters because culturally we feel closer to Hello Kitty, which has pretty designs. Disney characters are too American.'

The exhibition opens today.