CULTURE

Hong Kong artist Kacey Wong offers Europe a creative solution to its refugee crisis

Inspired by Occupy, Kacey Wong has created huts out of recycled wood that he will use to deliver a powerful message at a major Paris festival

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 01 October, 2015, 10:44pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 01 October, 2015, 10:44pm

A Hong Kong artist brings artworks inspired by Occupy Central to Paris to address the European refugee crisis at a major cultural event opening this weekend.

Kacey Wong will be presenting Shelters of Resistance as part of White Night, the annual festival in the French capital featuring all-night events held at museums, galleries, institutions and public spaces.

Wong will show three huts of different sizes and styles made of recycled and burnt wood in the courtyard of Paris City Hall. Visitors can go inside the huts to contemplate questions about private space and sharing spaces, he said.

He is one of the few Hong Kong artists to have shown in the Parisian event after film director Johnnie To Kei-fung staged an exhibition there in 2008.

The artist said the idea was inspired by last year's Occupy protests, during which he spent almost every night in Admiralty throughout the 79 days conducting performances and workshops. As well as working with protesters, Wong engaged in heated debates with those who opposed the student-led pro-democracy movement.

"The whole experience was traumatic and yet beautiful," said Wong, who recently left his teaching job at Polytechnic University after 20 years.

"It showed the good side of humanity when everyone there trusted in each other and helped each other out. The movement made Hong Kong a city with a character."

He said the huts to be shown in Paris reflected his thoughts about the hundreds of tents lined up during the so-called "umbrella movement", during which the umbrella became a symbol of defiance against the police's use of pepper spray and tear gas.

"When all the people were camping out in Harcourt Road, I wondered why they didn't go home. They didn't go home, not because they were homeless, but because of political reasons."

Wong kicks off the exhibition on Saturday with a performance called Celestial Fortune Telling, during which he will act as a fortune teller and answer art-related questions.

The show's curator, Caroline Ha Thuc, said French people knew little about Hong Kong art. She said showing Wong's works at White Night would help bridge the cultural gap while engaging the audience to contemplate the refugee crisis that is currently hitting Europe.

Wong said migrants played a major role in forming societies around the world, including Hong Kong, where mainland migrants fled to the city when the communists took power in China. Hong Kong also faced the crisis brought by refugees and boatpeople from Vietnam in the past, he said.

Wong said while the style of the wooden huts would be in striking contrast to the classical European architecture of Paris City Hall, the use of recycled wood would also represent the idea of converting "useless" materials into something "useful".

He described how this concept can also be applied to how to deal with migrants in societies.

"Some see an influx of migrants as an invasion of the local culture, but if you can develop a system to take them in, they can still become a member of the local society," Wong said.

"Hong Kong is a migrant society. Those who came to the city in the past blended in successfully. An influx of mainland migrants to the city today should not be a problem, as long as they respect the local culture ... But there is a lot of irrational behaviour from these mainlanders, who gave people an impression they were trying to dominate the world.

"This is not the traditional Chinese value, which is to respect each other."

The exhibition runs until October 26.