by Adam Wright
A Chinese proverb says 'women hold up half the sky' and, when it comes to arts and culture in Hong Kong, at least, members of the fairer sex do more than carry their own weight.
International Women's Day was celebrated on Tuesday, and it's interesting to note the many prominent cultural positions filled by women in the city. The heads of the Arts Festival, the Hong Kong Sinfonietta and, until recently, the International Film Festival are all women, as are the artistic directors of the Hong Kong Ballet and the City Chamber Orchestra of Hong Kong.
Some of the city's top art galleries are run by women, such as the Ooi Botos Gallery, the 10 Chancery Lane Gallery, Contemporary By Angela Li, Amelia Johnson Contemporary, the Blue Lotus Gallery and the Schoeni Art Gallery. Women hold power positions at many of the city's top nightclubs, including Volar, Fly and Likuid, and women are making their mark in the music world in the form of bands such as Noughts and Exes, 9 Maps and Thinking Out Loud, and DJs including Miss Yellow and Wendy Wenn.
However, the battle for overall equality between the sexes is far from over. The median income for female workers in Hong Kong stands at about HK$8,500, 30 per cent lower than their male counterparts, many more women than men live in poverty, and last year women occupied just 28 per cent of senior executive positions at local companies, compared to 31 per cent on the mainland and 47 per cent in the Philippines.
Still, the rise of women in local arts and culture is worth celebrating, especially in the week when the world acknowledges the strength and achievements of women. And there are plenty of events taking place around town over the coming days where you can do just that.
Opening today at the Asia Fine Art Gallery in Wan Chai is an exhibition titled Feminine Mystique, organised to mark the centenary of International Women's Day. It features works by six women artists, including Canadian Charito Helgason, Korean Kristy Cho and Vietnamese Vu Thu Hien, in a range of disciplines such as painting, sculpture and multimedia.
Contemporary by Angela Li on Hollywood Road is also shining the spotlight on female artists in its Full Bloom exhibition of works by six mainlanders, including Jin Weihong, Lei Miao, Jin Quan and Li Wenmin, that runs until April 10.
Meanwhile, the Girls with Guitars series is getting ready to showcase some of Hong Kong's standout female rock musicians for the third time. Featured at the March 18 concert at Central's Skylark Lounge will be Thinking Out Loud - fronted by the irrepressible concert promoter Chris B - along with retro act Logo and acoustic act Aileen.
Fong Yim-fun is arguably the most famous female Cantonese opera performer produced by Hong Kong, and her life and times are being celebrated in several Arts Festival performances including The Goddess of River Luo tonight at Sha Tin Town Hall and A Forsaken Woman tomorrow at City Hall.
Strong female leads are also all over the big screen at the moment, including Natalie Portman's Oscar-winning turn as a tortured ballerina in Black Swan and singer Christina Aguilera making her movie debut in the widely panned Burlesque.
But of all the upcoming events in Hong Kong involving women, none illustrates the triumph over adversity better than Sunday's International Literary Festival programme featuring Canadian Evelyn Lau at Hullet House in Tsim Sha Tsui.
Lau spent her teenage years as a prostitute and drug addict in Vancouver, but has since risen to become a noted author and poet. Her appearance alongside Rastafarian poet Benjamin Zephaniah (see preview on back page) should prove inspiring for all who attend.