In artist Yeung Hok-tak’s latest solo exhibition “What a Big Smoke Ring”, he provides a humorous reason for why the coronavirus pandemic has hit Hong Kong so hard: because the fire dragon wasn’t here to purge the city of plague and misfortune. Yeung’s painting Enter the Fire Dragon (2022) points to Hong Kong’s annual Tai Hang fire dragon dance , a tradition born over 140 years ago. After Tai Hang – a Hakka village at the time – was struck with a plague, a village elder was told by Buddha in a dream that performing a fire dragon dance around the village would end the misfortune. The villagers followed through, and the plague miraculously ended. Since then, the fire dance has been performed year after year, but social gathering restrictions have halted the tradition since 2020. “If the fire dragon came to life … it could go around Hong Kong freely and purge the pandemic,” Yeung jokes, a reference he makes with the roaming dragon in his painting. Located at the Kiang Malingue gallery’s 13th floor at Blue Box Factory in Aberdeen, “What a Big Smoke Ring” pays tribute to Yeung’s Hong Kong upbringing. A Big Smoke Ring (2022), which the exhibition is named after, makes fun of how some Hong Kong people enjoy boasting and exaggerating about something that’s actually beyond their ability. Yeung’s paintings are characterised by their bright, striking colours, which help to present a series of imaginative, sometimes surrealist, worlds. In several works, the artist relives his childhood memories while reflecting on the city’s social and political changes over the last years. Photos of Hong Kong after World War II capture the city in its grimy glory Defy Slippery (2022), for example, depicts a park near his grandparents’ home in Kowloon City that he used to frequent as a child. He returned to the park as an adult, shortly after a typhoon. For the painting, he added two roller skaters to the scene to show that even after wind and rain, young people aren’t scared and will come out to skate anyway. “Though the weather is severe, young people are still unafraid and retain their spirit to face the situation,” he says. Meanwhile, To Remove and Delete (2022) can be interpreted in multiple ways. On one hand, the removal of debris and stones reflects the ongoing changes in Hong Kong (especially relating to people leaving), but the painting can also be viewed through the lens of Hong Kong’s land shortage . “It is believed that all the hills and mountains will be removed shortly, leaving room for a large quantity of residential land,” writes Yeung in his humorous and ironic caption – the joke being that if this were to happen, Hong Kong’s population could all live in big houses and afford gardens. Once a comic book artist, Yeung retains a sense of lighthearted playfulness, even if his paintings have an undertone of sentimentality and nostalgia. Each painting is accompanied by a caption written by Yeung that provides witty commentary – while some artists choose to directly explain the meaning of their works in captions, he says his approach is different. “I want different people to use their own point of view to look at the artworks, getting different angles out of it. So when I wrote them, I purposely used a dramatic format, like [I was] telling a story. I hope that by writing it this way, viewers won’t be led by my own personal impression.” Yeung gladly welcomes interpretations that are vastly different from his. “This way, I think the space for imagination becomes wider,” he says. Besides, his paintings aren’t just about Hong Kong. “It can even be expanded to how I view the world. Because actually, I think that Hong Kong’s issues over the past couple of years haven’t just occurred in Hong Kong – they’ve occurred all over the world,” Yeung says, noting that the whole world is dealing with the ramifications of change and, to varying degrees, conflict. As a result, Yeung’s paintings are simultaneously local and global. There are unmistakable Hong Kong elements in some, but its overarching themes are universal. What we can all revel in is Yeung’s sense of humour, which enlivens the paintings and makes us reflect upon our identities through a fresh perspective. “What a Big Smoke Ring” is showing at Kiang Malingue, 13/F, Blue Box Factory Building, 25 Hing Wo Street, Aberdeen, Tues-Sat, 11am-7pm. Until May 30.