Asian contemporary artists interpret the number eight and its meaning, from gossip and fortune to rebirth and regeneration

Eight artists’ works at the Interpr8 exhibition at Hong Kong’s A2Z Art Gallery cover subjects including double standards in Hong Kong censorship, the dark side of President Duterte’s war on drugs, and Catholic themes of rebirth

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 12 August, 2018, 9:48am
UPDATED : Sunday, 12 August, 2018, 9:48am

In Vivian Ho’s work Gossip, the young artist makes a valid point about censorship in Hong Kong and the broader media landscape.

“I was making a comment about the gossip culture of this city … people gossip a lot and forget very quickly,” she says as she walks around the A2Z Art Gallery in Central, where her piece is part of a collective exhibition, “Interpr8”, that runs until September 12.

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Ho’s work is an exact copy of an issue of popular local Hong Kong gossip magazine Face that was promoting stories about homosexuality, prostitution and group sex. Ho does not have a problem with those topics – her issue is with Hong Kong’s Obscene Articles Tribunal that in July censored the Chinese-language edition of Killing Commendatore, the latest book by Japanese author Haruki Murakami, one of Ho’s favourite writers.

The book was classified “Class II – indecent materials”, meaning it can only be sold in bookshops with its cover wrapped in plastic and a notice warning buyers – who must be 18 or over – about its contents. The novel was also pulled from the Hong Kong book fair.

“The book talks about how a vagina assaults a penis – it’s like one or two lines. And it was censored after just one day? It took me two weeks to read the book so it’s obvious the censors made that decision without reading it.

“So now it’s only sold in a plastic cover, but this [Face] magazine,” she says pointing to her work, “this was sold everywhere in Hong Kong.”

Ho is one of eight contemporary artists taking part in the exhibition that looks at the interpretation of the number eight in different cultures. For Ho’s connection, the number eight in Cantonese, baat, forms part of the word baat gwaa, which means gossip or gossiping.

Others taking part include Japan’s Takashi Hara, Hongkongers Liane Chu, Yiu Chi-leung and Bao Ho, Dan Hoo from Vietnam, Chinese artist Gao Jie and Christina Lopez from the Philippines.

The show opened on August 8, which was “not a coincidence”, laughs the gallery’s owner, Luke Chapman.

“We are so lucky to bring together these eight talented artists and while they all work with different mediums and different styles, they are definitely united in the same spirit.”

In Chinese culture, the number eight is considered lucky because its pronunciation sounds like the word for “prosper”. In Biblical numerology, meanwhile, the number signifies resurrection and regeneration.

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Flowers, femininity and positivity are the overriding themes of the works of 20-year-old visual artist Liane Chu.

“Everything I do has a positive mindset. When I paint I need to close my eyes to see the colours – through darkness comes the light,” she says, adding that her paintings in the exhibition are composed of eight colours.

Her works also have a peaceful, Zen-like quality – as seen in her Eight Faces of Elegance – which is a state of mind that helps her control her Tourette syndrome, she says.

Manila-born Christina Lopez addresses a darker subject in her works, touching on the social and political landscapes in her home country, in particular the extrajudicial killings in President Duterte’s war on drugs.

Her satirical paintings, sculptures and installations – some showing Jesus’ crucified hands as female hands, the holes in the middle not from nails but something resembling gunshot wounds – were born out of “pure frustration” about the current political situation.

Her images instantly register with the Catholic belief system that runs deep in the Philippines, with the number eight representing rebirth and regeneration.

Hong Kong-born Yiu Chi-leung, meanwhile, says his works carry a message of hope.

“I have a young daughter,” he says, holding out a phone with his daughter Grace set as the screen background. “The young need hope.”

His oil-painted The Messenger 2 shows destroyed cars (car disposal is a much discussed matter in Hong Kong, he says) superimposed with an angel, a sign of rebirth and regeneration. A practising Christian, Yiu says the number eight symbolises rebirth in Christian thinking.

Interpr8, A2Z Art Gallery, G/F, 20 Gage Street, Central, tel: 2395 5198. Until September 12