NOT SO LONG ago, 'Hong Kong art' meant only one thing to the outside world: the city's search for its political and cultural identity. Now the focus has returned to its artists' creativity. Performance artist Anthony Leung Po-shan, an artist-in-residence at Britain's Manchester Chinese Arts Centre, remembers how most questions about her (sic) and her work were 1997-related when she studied at Leeds University, five years ago. To her relief, people are now more interested in what she does. 'For the years I have been an artist, this is the first time someone invited me for the reason that they like my art,' she says. Leung and fellow Hong Kong artist Yuen Kin-leung and choreographer Edwin Lung are among the dozen Chinese artists performing at the Vital 06 Chinese International Live Art Festival, which begins on November 2. Organised by the Manchester Chinese Arts Centre, the four-day event aims to raise awareness of 'the diverse, exciting and challenging work' created by ethnic Chinese artists. The event's other participants include the British-based Canadian artist Lisa Cheung; Marcus Young and Patty Chang from the US; Li Wen from Singapore; and the mainland's Dai Guangyu, He Yunchang and He Chengyai. Sarah Champion, the chief executive of the Manchester Chinese Arts Centre and curator of Vital 06, says the occasion will alter overseas audiences' attitudes to Chinese artists. Champion said when the centre was founded, 20 years ago, its focus was on British Chinese artists; now it also recognises the contributions of artists from the Chinese diaspora, and those from Hong Kong. 'I didn't look at a map and try to find artists,' Champion says. 'I am looking for the best in the world and three happen to be from Hong Kong. I don't know if this is pure coincidence, or if there is something in the artistic scene in Hong Kong which has made this happen.' The British are not the only ones who are championing Hong Kong artists. Nor are Leung and Yuen the only Hong Kong artists who have been active overseas. Tozer Pak Sheung-chuen, who uses everyday objects in his works, spent a fortnight in Poland in August, at the Warsaw Artists Action, a non-commercial art space, while contemporary artist Beatrix Pang recently returned from a Hong Kong group show, The Inner, Outer Sphere, at an artist-run space KX in Hamburg. She was joined there by seven artists, including comics Lee Chi-hoi and Kongkee Kong, the painter Tsang Chui-mei and video artist Eric Siu. Pang says European audiences are keen to learn more about Hong Kong contemporary art, compared with 'very bold' works from the mainland. 'We [showed] only a little of the whole scene of Hong Kong contemporary art - at least a voice from this generation,' says the Scandinavian-educated artist. KX organiser Stefan Canham says the Hong Kong group show allows their audience to gain insight into the 'young, happening' Hong Kong art scene. 'There usually seems to be more of a division here between art made to be seen in a gallery space and art published in the form of comic books,' he says. 'The show was seen as fresh, uncomplicated. We hope that this show will be the beginning of a long-term exchange between Hong Kong and Hamburg artists.' Leung is relishing her trip to England. 'I seldom have the chance to think of myself as an artist,' she says. 'I've always joked about myself as being one-tenth of an artist, using most of my time serving other artists. That's why I'm treasuring this experience to be an artist for a month in Manchester.' She says she will present a new version of her work Itchy Itchy, in which she will invite members of her audience to scrub White Flower Oil onto her naked body. 'In Hong Kong, I always feel the mental coercion to do works that generate quick responses - the audience expect that and the police may come and grab me if I don't finish a street performance quickly.' Leung says. 'Now, I'm trying to develop slow work.' Yuen, who has presented his works in Seoul, Beijing, Guangzhou and Gaoxing, will present an updated version of Body Heat, in which red beans will be planted in his feet wrapped up in gauze. Both artists are confident their message will travel, although Champion says the Hong Kong artists' works are influenced by their home town, but focus on broader social issues. 'I think that the physical structure of Hong Kong influences the artists,' she says. 'I see a lot of reference to architecture, space and the sheer number of people encountered on a daily basis, but I think most of the artists in Vital are looking at the bigger picture - injustice, immigration, power and so on.'