SOTY 2017: Visual Artist candidates display originality and spark in pieces that show off the Hong Kong identity

By Andrea Zavadszky

These young artists are breaking Hong Kong youth stereotypes with their creative talent and deep understanding of current social issues

By Andrea Zavadszky |

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SOTY Visual Artist 2017 award finalists are concerned about Hong Kong’s future.

The Student of the Year (SOTY) Visual Artist 2017 award broke many clichés about today’s youth. Haven’t we heard many times that they neglect the true Hong Kong can-do spirit, are self-centred, give up easily, are uncaring and lack passion?

Participants in the competition were the exact opposite, greatly impressing the judges with their range of skills, originality, and commitment to their art.

“Their real spark of originality is distinctly coming out of a Hong Kong sensibility. A very strong Hong Kong identity is shining through their work, very sincere and quite moving,” says judge Timothy Calnin, director of the Tai Kwun Centre for Heritage and Arts.

“A lot of them are concerned with current social issues, such as housing, young people’s feeling of dislocation and the heavy reliance on technology for communication.”

A two-time competitor, 17-year-old Tam Sze-ching has gone through a tough learning process. She realised that last year she only tried to prove she had the skills, but her work did not convey any meaningful messages.

This year, with her mixed-media project, she focused on conveying an important social message: although Hong Kong people work like robots, we can make the situation better if we truly care for each other.

“I use the robot to represent a soulless society, but after the lights [behind the canvas] come on, you can see that even the robot has a heart,” says the Good Hope School student.

Another competitor, Kong Di-lam, used three pictures to express her ideas on how to solve the problem of unbalanced population growth. The student from CCC Kei Yuen College said taking part in the competition was a great experience.

“I have learned to be humble,” she says.

“I live in Tin Shui Wai and rarely have the chance to meet students from other schools. Now I can see what they are doing, the art they produced, and I can learn from them. They are so strong.”

Pang Ching, a Form Six student from St Rose of Lima’s College, is into a wide range of art forms, from clay work, installations and painting to video, 3D and webpage design. She doesn’t take any art classes, and learns everything from the internet, mainly YouTube. For the competition, she said she wanted to express the importance of maintaining Hong Kong traditions, and designed a webpage where locals can share their memories. She also made a small installation of two shops selling traditional Hong Kong snacks.

“Getting into the final shortlist of 12 students and coming to this competition is an honour for me. It is the first time I’ve met any other students who do visual arts. I’m very happy I had the opportunity,” she says.

The judges were impressed by the students' range of skills, originality, and commitment to their art. 
Photo: SCMP

Pong Hok-man of STFA Lee Shau Kee College presented her special effects make-up designs. The 17-year-old has already decided on her career: last year she created scary Halloween make-up looks for Ocean Park and, after graduation she hopes to become a special effects artist.

This is not the first time that Dr Edmund Lee, executive director of the Hong Kong Design Centre, has been a SOTY judge. He says the students continue to surprise him with their creative talent and pursuit of quality, as well as their understanding of social issues.

He advises participants to display originality during their presentations, and interpret issues through their own lenses.

“Be humble to learn and curious enough to try. Show your personality,” he says.

SCMP’s Culture Editor Kevin Kwong, also a judge, appreciates the finalists’ artworks, as well as the broad range of art forms, but he suggests competitors should have a better focus. “Some students presented too much, so it lacked focus ... You should present a strong focus and a strong message,” he says.

The Student of the Year Awards competition is organised by the South China Morning Post and Young Post and sponsored by the Hong Kong Jockey Club.

Edited by Nicole Moraleda