Female forces in Hong Kong’s contemporary art scene

Updated on March 22 2017

All eyes are on art this month in Hong Kong, an exciting time to be in the city for anyone with a penchant and appreciation for the creative and thought-provoking. The art and social calendar is packed to such a dizzying effect that it’s easy to forget that it was barely five years ago Hong Kong was barely a blip on the international art world’s radar.

As an appetite for diverse art grew through commercial and private art collections, so did the amount of research and education work needed to be done to allow a healthy art ecosystem to develop. One very individual who saw through the rapid growth of the city to become the art capital it is today, was Chantal Wong, one of a handful of young driving forces in Hong Kong’s art scene.

Wong started off her career in art by working in development and communications at Asia Art Archive, the first of its kind in Hong Kong which sought to document and make knowledge about recent Asian art available to all. Wong left to pursue a master’s degree in London, but then returned to AAA to become, currently, the head of strategic development, where she enjoys work fueling idea exchange through the fast-paced realm of growing contemporary Asian art. In 2015, she also started her own artist-run space, Things That Can Happen, together with Hong Kong artist Lee Kit.

We spoke to Wong about her proudest accomplishments, what the Hong Kong art scene is still hungry for, and how she handles the busiest week in the year for art. Scroll down to read our full interview, and don’t forget to also head here for a closer look at our photoshoot, taken at some of Wong’s favourite artistic hubs in the city.

This story is supported by Céline. Styling by Cindie Chan. Photography by Visala Wong. Make up and hair by Rainbow @ Annie G. Makeup.

Post image Related: 10 artists to know at Art Basel Hong Kong 2017

What do you think is the greatest thing about working in the arts?

I work closely with Asia Art Archive’s Director, Claire Hsu, to set out a roadmap to achieve the organisation’s mission — to be a catalyst for new ideas that enrich our understanding of the world through knowledge around recent art in Asia — and ensure that we have the right resources to get there. In a world of production, keeping up/catching up, marketing and consumption, AAA is a space of reflection, imagination, and connection to people, stories, and shared histories. It is uniquely humanist. And Things That Can Happen is an experimental playground, we are always wanting to challenge ourselves, do stranger things, work with difficult people, that’s pretty great, no?

What inspired you to start independent arts space Things That Can Happen?

There were three key triggers that led Lee Kit and I to set up Things. The world is increasingly divided: politically and socio-economically, and this polarises communities — art makes manifest the grey and nuanced. We wanted a space that would bring different perspectives to the table to engage in conversation enabled by art. Also, we felt that art spaces in Hong Kong were starting to look similar (white cubey) and that instead of expanding the imagination, these white cubes could result in their own set of limitations. Artists need studio spaces to work, think, read, gather, experiment, lounge and do nothing. But space is an eternally fraught topic in this city. Finally, we wanted to share our knowledge and resources to enable new possibilities and new things to happen in our city, and having a platform for others to do similar.

What are you most proud of so far with your work there?

We’ve built up a community around us. I’m proud that our team — Mary, Oscar, Sarah, Herman, Lee Kit, I — all feel a sense of ownership and belonging. I’m also proud that Lee Kit and I haven’t head butted once in two years. Mainly, I’m amazed at the response. We show difficult things that require the visitor to go beyond their expectations of art. It’s subtle, it’s thoughtful, it’s bare, there aren’t many ‘things’ in the space. Our shows have gotten more and more challenging, which is what we always wanted to do. I’m also proud of who we are as an art space, that we don’t only do art. We practise things that one wouldn’t expect an art space to do. For instance, we run a Community College working with young asylum seekers and refugees to build leadership skills and social consciousness through the developing social impact projects.

Art comes in so many different forms, do you see fashion as a form of art? Do you feel inspired to dress differently for art week, with its busy event schedule?

Art can come in any form. For me, it is art when it has the intention to challenge or disrupt the way we see the world, and is a vehicle to expand our imagination of what’s possible. Honestly, during Art Week I’m running around all day, so I aim for elegant, comfortable, with a dash of hipster-cool that works for any occasion. (I hate to admit I’m a bit of a hipster at heart.) When necessary, I retreat for 10 minutes to meditate and do breathing exercises. So you may see me hiding in a dark corner with my headphones on and eyes closed around Art Basel. Also, I am constantly reminding myself not to take anything too seriously. When I’m 70 this stuff won’t matter — so I just take it one moment at a time.

Women tend to hold prominent positions in arts administration and curatorial roles in Hong Kong, is it accurate to say women are the driving forces behind the Hong Kong art scene, or is the situation quite equal?

I love this question, in a way, I agree, there are many incredibly talented and creative women in the art scene in Hong Kong. They are my role models. I’m so lucky to have been brought up in such a nurturing environment for women. At the same time, while many senior positions in organisations are filled with women, most of the recognised artists are still male. That’s something we need to work on.