Actress Karena Lam is Living the Life Artistic
The Canadian-born actress rose to stardom with multiple movie hits over the past 14 years, winning her three Golden Horse Awards. Now the mother of two is stepping into the art world as the curator of a new calligraphy exhibition. Photos by Kirk Kenny / studiozag.com
I was born and raised in Canada, but moved to Taiwan when I was 15 in order to develop my singing career. But what I really wanted to do was act. In 2001, [film director and producer] Derek Yee was producing a movie by director Ann Hui called “July Rhapsody,” starring Jacky Cheung and Anita Mui. He flew me into Hong Kong for an audition and I got the role, so I stayed.It was my first day on set when I realized, “This is what I want to do!”
I came to Hong Kong in 2001, and since then I’ve done 20-something films. It’s not a lot. I think I’m very lucky because I really love what I do: Being a wife, a mother, an actress, and my first time curating—I love it all.
My background is a bit complicated: Japan, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Canada. I think we’re all global citizens now. Today I’m in Hong Kong; tomorrow I might be in France; the next day somewhere in Africa. I never imagined I would have the chance to visit so many places.
My sense of belonging comes from home. I follow my husband and my two daughters, and wherever they are, that’s home.
Art has always been something of an interest. I stayed in India for half a month to learn indigo dyeing; I weave my own fabric; I do ceramics; I released a Polaroid book in 2010; I hand-made 200 books dedicated to Le Corbusier with Zuni Icosahedron. So I’d say art has been an important part of my life.
"It’s nothing to do with logic—if it speaks to you, then it speaks to you."
One day my agent Sandy Lamb asked me: “Why don’t you share it with people? This is so educational and yet it’s inspiring.” I was like, “No, it’s a hobby!” I always felt like art was my own little haven and I didn’t want to share it. That was before I had children. But after I became a mother, I really want to curate, to bring art to Hong Kong.
I call it fate [curating this exhibition]. I didn’t get to know [artist] Inoue Yuichi—he passed away in 1985. It wasn’t until four, five years ago when I saw his “Hana” [flower] exhibition in Tokyo. It just spoke to me—it made my heart pound. That’s something about art: It’s about perspective. It’s nothing to do with logic—if it speaks to you, then it speaks to you.
I think I have this connection with Yuichi because he’s very genuine: He wanted to explore humanity through his calligraphy, and I think I, as an actress, try to explore humanity through my roles. Even though I never met him face-to-face, I feel like he’s a long-time friend. It’s weird, I don’t know how to describe that feeling.
I really want to bring his art to Hong Kong, to introduce him to kids and people of different age groups. Then I’ll feel I have fulfilled an obligation. Hong Kong is still behind when it comes to art, and I think it has to do with education. In France, for example, many of the art museums have a whole floor dedicated to children. In Hong Kong, we don’t even have a children’s museum.
I’m saddened by it. I have two children—my eldest loves painting, and that makes me happy. If it’s something she’s passionate about, I’ll encourage and support her.
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That’s why this exhibition is free to all. I’ve invited many organizations, like Tung Wah Group of Hospitals, schools, and artists with disabilities, to come and view the show. I don’t think you have to know how to do [art] in order to appreciate it. If you have the sensibility, you can form your own interpretation.
Since I proposed this project to Agnès b two years ago, my work in preparing the exhibition has been like that of a film director. There are always problems to solve. Whereas as an actress, I’m in my comfort zone: I don’t have to care about other people, as long as I’m in character. It’s not so easy being a curator.
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My first profession is as a mom of two daughters; second is being an actress. I’ve told myself to do just one film per year, because I want to be a full-time mom. I’d say this is my first, not my final exhibition. Will I be a curator again? I really don’t know. I’ll just have to see how it goes—after all, it’s a passion.