Reviews: exhibitions explore what it means to be a Hong Kong migrant

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 14 April, 2015, 6:06am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 14 April, 2015, 6:06am

Mobile M+: Moving Images

Midtown Pop, Causeway Bay and Cattle Depot, To Kwa Wan

Until April 26

Timothy Mo's Sour Sweet (its screen adaptation was shown at this year's Hong Kong International Film Festival) offers one of the best depictions of the Hong Kong migrant experience.

A newly married Hong Kong couple emigrates to London from their New Territories village in the 1960s. They quickly adapt to living in Britain, but fail to decisively deal with the consequences of an unpaid gambling debt and the thuggish triad enforcers from London's Chinatown.

In contrast, a younger sister, seemingly immature and naive, embraces London's opportunities and soon has great success.

There are currently two local exhibitions that explore the subject of migration, one curated by Mobile M+, held at two locations, and another at Artify Gallery.

The videos and films in "Moving Images" by Mobile M+ look at conflicting emotions around immigration.

In British artist Isaac Julien's 50-minute three-channel Ten Thousand Waves at the Cattle Depot, Little Flower, a prostitute, walks the streets of colonial Shanghai alongside trams and coolies, while the sea goddess Mazu (played by Maggie Cheung Man-yuk, right) floats above these same streets in modern Shanghai.

A lament for lost souls is recited while a fast-moving rising tide covers Morecombe Bay in northwest England. Stranded on sandbars are illegal Chinese cockle pickers - 20 men and two women died in this 2004 tragedy. The footage of a shivering sole survivor waving for help is juxtaposed with a floating Mazu above and floating corpses below. Julien's work recalls death far from home.


Elva Lai: Sorry, it's fragile

Artify Gallery, Chai Wan

Until April 30

Elva Lai's "Sorry, it's fragile" photography and mixed-media exhibition uses her own migration from the mainland to Hong Kong to tell a story of personal loss. Lai's father leaves the mainland, arriving in Hong Kong in the 1970s. The rest of the family is reunited in 1997 after many years apart.

Lai weaves a historic tone into her exhibition, depicting images of the Tung Wah Coffin Home in Pok Fu Lam. Since the 1860s, Tung Wah has provided a burial service for China's diaspora: if a person died overseas, Tung Wah could, if requested, arrange the return of their bones for burial in their home village in China.

Within this backdrop, the death of Lai's father is remembered. Her distraught mother threw away all physical reminders of him. Lai captures the distress of losing her father in three works, each framed as a view looking out from the old KCRC train's windows.

Seen from the train are images of the sea, first from the mainland, then Hong Kong. And, it is into this sea that her mother also threw her father's keys.

John Batten