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Some Tangible, Some Forgotten: Art About Borders in the Hong Kong SAR

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Part of the Contemporary East Asian Visual Cultures, Societies and Politics book series (CEAVCSP)


This essay gives a critical account of artworks by two artists, Law Yuk Mui and Yim Suifong, and two art initiatives, The Rooftop Institute and Asia Seed programme—all of which are based in the Hong Kong SAR—set against the background of recent public protests within the region against the authority of Beijing. The artworks and art initiatives in question can be understood to uphold the border between Hong Kong and Mainland China as a site of political resistance that is both ‘problematic and desirable’. It is argued that they also point towards Hong Kong’s long-standing relationships with the rest of Asia, in particular Southeast Asia, as a potential alternative geopolitical and cultural orientation for the region.


  • Hong Kong
  • Law Yuk Mui
  • Yim Suifong
  • The Rooftop Institute
  • Asia Seed programme
  • Political resistance

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  1. 1.

    The first of these exhibitions, opened in July 2018 at the contemporary art gallery of the newly refurbished historical building called Tai Kwun Centre for Heritage and Art, was titled ‘Dismantling the Scaffold’ and curated by Spring Workshop’s curator Christina Li. In that exhibition, a series of art works by Tiffany Chung addressed the Vietnamese refugee camps situation in Hong Kong at the end of the twentieth century, thus reminding the visiting public of the fraught relationship the local population once had with a migrant community defined as illegal. The other exhibition concerning this part of the world, titled ‘In Search of Southeast Asia through the M+  Collections’, opened in June 2018 and was organised by M+ (the museum of visual culture of the West Kowloon Cultural District that will open its doors sometime in the next decade).

  2. 2.

    For instance, around 2015, some ‘grey good traders’ were molested because of the disruption to lives they occasioned in the towns of the New Territories. These ‘traders’ were people carrying all sorts of products in personal luggage to transport them to shops in Shenzhen where they can be sold. This does not sound very intrusive, but one example can illustrate what it actually means: a few years ago, it became nearly impossible for Hong Kong mothers to buy infant formula because the ‘grey good traders’ had bought all the existing stock. The COVID-19 pandemic and the necessity for anyone crossing this border to undergo a two-week quarantine has momentarily put an end to this practice.

  3. 3.

    K.-Y. Wong and P.-S. Wan (2001), The Condition of Ethnic Identity in Hong Kong. In: S.K. Lau, et al., eds., Social tTransformation and Cultural Change in Chinese, Hong Kong: Hong Kong Institute of Asia–Pacific Studies, The Chinese University of Hong Kong, 431–458.

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    Ming Bao (2005), ‘Gang 2/3 shaoshu zuyi: women bei qishi’, Ming Bao, 3 November, F02.

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    Ming Bao (2011b), ‘Pingjihui diaocha sansui ganghai qishi heiren’, Ming Bao, 3 August, A18.

  6. 6.

    The following cycle, that took place in the first half of 2017, was created around the concept of ‘Everyday objects’ and involved Hong Kong artist Tang Kwok-hin 鄧國騫 and Japanese artist Motoyuki Shitamichi 下道基行. The next one, during the second half of 2017, on the concept of ‘Contingency’ involved local practitioner Pak Sheung-chuen 白雙全 and Thai artist Arin Rungjang. The final cycle took place in the first half of 2018 and involved local artist Wong Tin-yan 王天仁 and Taiwanese artist Zhang Xuzhan 張徐展. It revolved around the concept of inherited tradition and the creation of objects like paper offering.

  7. 7.

    In Everything Under the Heavens: How the Past Helps Shape China’s Push for Global Power, Howard W. French relates the launch of the Greater Bay Area project to the Umbrella movement: ‘In response to a wave of enormous protests in 2014 in favour of electoral reforms, China linked the Hong Kong stock market to mainland markets, and it has also signalled that it will push ahead with another favourite from its co-prosperity playbook: massive infrastructure development. In substance, this means creating a high-speed rail connection linking Hong Kong to Shanghai, and moving toward the creation of a megacity in the Pearl River Delta that would fuse Hong Kong with a collection of nearby large young cities that include Shenzhen, Dongguan, Zhuhai and Foshan along with Guangzhou. The fifty million people this megacity would comprise would account for fully a tenth of the Chinese economy and cover an area twenty-six times as large as Greater London. From the perspective of Beijing, an approach like this has the merit not only of buying off Hong Kong via regional integration and the shared sense of prosperity that presumably comes along with it, but also of strongly eroding its individuality via immersion in a far greater, interdependent whole’ (French 2017: 122).


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Correspondence to Frank Vigneron .

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Vigneron, F. (2021). Some Tangible, Some Forgotten: Art About Borders in the Hong Kong SAR. In: Gladston, P., Kennedy-Schtyk, B., Turner, M. (eds) Visual Culture Wars at the Borders of Contemporary China. Contemporary East Asian Visual Cultures, Societies and Politics. Palgrave Macmillan, Singapore.

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