Sham Shui Po art exhibition highlights plight of poor

NGO hopes series of exhibitions will draw visitors to the city's poorest district

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 19 August, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 19 August, 2012, 10:10am

Visitors to Sham Shui Po are more often on the lookout for cheap computer equipment or street-market bargains than insight into local culture - but a voluntary organisation is hoping to change all that and put Hong Kong's poorest neighbourhood on the map for a new reason.

The Society for Community Organisation is hoping to start a dialogue about poverty and poor housing in the city with a series of exhibitions in the unlikely surroundings of a 1920s tong lau, or shophouse.

The non-governmental organisation has renovated the first floor of 269 Yu Chau Street into SoCO269, a space for art, design and even experimental exhibitions, hoping to draw people to the poorest of the city's 18 districts.

The space will officially open today with an exhibition on an issue close to the hearts of most Hongkongers: housing. Titled "Mi Casa Es Su Casa" or "My Home Is Your Home", the exhibit features video and photography intended to get people thinking differently about the roof over their head.

"Each person has a dream home," said Ho Hei-wah, director of the society. He hopes that the exhibition will make Hongkongers think of housing as more than a problem that needs solving - and as an opportunity to chase their dream. "I hope people will remember that houses are homes."

The society has organised an annual ArtWalk exhibition in Central, but Ho hopes the new venture will "bring the people back to the community" of Sham Shui Po, help people experience what life is like there and start a dialogue about life for the city's disadvantaged people.

"[The living situation of the poor] is not acceptable," Ho said. "My hope is that this can be solved within this government's term."

Ho says poor people need a real safety net that goes beyond short-term solutions like offering more public housing or giving out welfare money. "It's not just to stop the problems - but to improve the overall living quality," he said. "It's to hope - what do Hong Kongers want their home to be like?

"We continue to document the people in Hong Kong's older districts and their living spaces. If [their problems] are not solved, it will only get worse," Ho said.

The space costs the society HK$9,000 a month, but it came in really bad shape and renovations to make it usable cost HK$400,000 to HK$500,000. Even before its official opening, it hosted the successful June 4 Memorial Exhibition, which told the story of the Tiananmen Square democracy movement and the bloody crackdown that ended it.