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Sushan Chan: an artistic social commentary

Hong Kong's emerging talent

 

Although she keeps a low profile and is largely unknown to the city's commercial gallery circuit, Sushan Chan has a strong following among a tight group of artists whose work, like her own, concerns social and political issues. She is a member of, and works part time at, Woofer Ten; a community artist-run initiative based at Shanghai Street Art Space in Yau Mei Tei.

Technically an art exhibition venue, Woofer Ten has transformed it into something like a neighbourhood drop-in centre, tapping into the artistic and practical talent of the nearby kaifong. One of a variety of Woofer Ten-initiated activities sees neighbours themselves encouraged to teach workshops.

Chan's artwork is predominantly illustrative. She is art director of Woofer Post - a semi-regular publication distributed free by Woofer Ten around Yau Ma Tei. In the Post her idiosyncratic design and distinctive illustrations have made the publication an emblem of local cultural representation. Containing stories, news, cartoons, ideas and an earthy design reminiscent of an old-fashioned local newsletter, Woofer Post brings communities together in a spirit that is perfect for Yau Mei Tei's still-intact street culture, seen in the nearby markets and older businesses.

A graduate of fine arts from Chinese University in 2008, Chan's pencil and ink drawings are reminiscent of the social commentary seen in the work of 18th-century English artist William Hogarth or Feng Zikai, the Shanghai cartoonist, recently exhibited at the Hong Kong Museum of Art.

Graphic representation has often been sidelined in the art world by the "higher" forms of painting and sculpture - Andy Warhol and his conceptual, commercial opportunism is an exception.

Chan says she does not "think in the abstract, but [works] from real life situations". She takes these situations as ongoing themes in her art. She depicts, and has great sympathy for, people who work on the street: for example, women selling "good omen" flowers and men shining shoes.

She is inspired by local news and her own archive of newspaper clippings highlights the banality of everyday news coverage. Images of people hiding their face from a camera or a suspect whose head is covered by a black cloth with eye holes give the impression they have done something more serious than they may have.

Chan often depicts odd gestures made by the police or government officials on duty. These moments capture usually formal officials "out of [their] depth". It is this work that makes Chan one of the leading proponents in a renewed spirit of social satire in Hong Kong.

John Batten

 

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