Precious memories

In times of uncertainty – like now – we often find ourselves nostalgic for the good old days, when things felt more stable.

Artspace K is reminiscing about the past through its latest exhibition – aptly titled Remember Them? Old Businesses in Hong Kong through Eyes of Artists – featuring over 70 works from four artists.

Though coming from different generations with various art styles, these four have one thing in common: their love for Hong Kong.

Looking through Au Yeung Nai-chim’s sketches, viewers will be transported back to Hong Kong in the 90s. Mobile Flower Truck in Kowloon (Prince Edward Road), like its name suggests, depicts a flower truck parked next to the busy Flower Market Road in Prince Edward. Potted greenery is spread across the hollow truck and onto the road as pedestrians stop to check out the leafy bargains of the day.

While the artwork was created over two decades ago, it does not feel out of date. In fact, a stroll to the flower market reveals that such plant trucks still exist today.

“One stop at a time, I traveled to all corners of Hong Kong, sketching my observations and immersing myself in the joy of drawing,” said Au, who produced nearly 2,000 sketches over 70 years.

Sketch of Shum Wan in Aberdeen, Hong Kong depicts the iconic Jumbo Kingdom floating restaurants. Though the must-visit tourist landmark shut their doors last year due to the pandemic, they live on in Au Yeung’s 1995 drawing.

In these unprecedented times, Jumbo Kingdom is not the only Hong Kong icon to say goodbye, as Hong Kong’s last rickshaw puller also retired due to old age and a decrease in tourists.

But their spirit lives on in Shen Ping’s Rickshaw, which shows three rickshaw pullers across two watercolor paintings; one in action and two resting next to their rickshaws. Shen masterfully highlights his three subjects by depicting them in the foreground with color and leaving the old buildings in the background a monochromatic brown.

Said Shen: “Recording and illustrating the best of Hong Kong with paintbrushes is the duty and responsibility of a Hong Kong painter. I am proud to be one of them.”

Also taking up the role of documenting urban realities is Wai Wai, the youngest and only female artist in the exhibition.

Stroll Under the Lion Rock is one of the few maps on show, but it is different from traditional ones – and perhaps not the most useful for finding your location.

Inspired by the city’s unofficial anthem Below the Lion Rock, Wai Wai depicts well-known locations on the Kowloon side of the mountain in her map – such as the Yau Ma Tei Wholesale Fruit Market, Goldfish Street and Maryknoll Convent School.

“Sketching an old shop is like building a bridge to connect it with the public and letting them live together,” she said.

While Cassian Lau’s pop art style stands out from his more traditional counterparts in the exhibition, he also bases his work on Hong Kong’s dynamic cityscapes and cultural treasures.

“To a painter and storyteller, Hong Kong in the 1960s and 1970s is a romantic backdrop, rich with tapestries of inspiration. The stories in my paintings are open-ended, and as such, viewers are encouraged to create their own personal narratives,” said Lau.

Taking reference from popular culture, House of 72 Tenants in the 1960s Hong Kong may ring a bell in many Hongkongers’ minds. Like the original film, Lau depicts Hongkongers’ various collective memories from the era, such as rooftop schools and “airplane olive” vendors with their dark green metal containers.

Upon closer attention, audiences may even notice that Lau has hidden the love story of two characters throughout his artworks.

Amid our ever-changing society, the artists have preserved small moments of Hong Kong – both iconic and mundane parts of daily life. Their works have and will continue to offer a glimpse into Hong Kong’s past as those moments slowly wash away into oblivion over time.

Remember Them? Old Businesses in Hong Kong through Eyes of Artists is showing at Artspace K until June 27.

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