Your recent exhibition is titled A Bouquet for You, what is it that you wanted to say to the “you”?
The “you” in A Bouquet for You refers to yourself or anyone you encounter. Experiencing the pandemic with all its challenges, it was hardy an enjoyable time for anyone, so the “flowers” in this exhibition refer to bouquets we present – in condolence or as gifts on other occasions happy or sad. This may be a time of little joy but it is hardly the worst of times, we need to be thankful for having the people we have around us – this is the meaning of the “flowers”.
Would you share with us how you came up with the concept and theme of your latest publication?
The theme this year is “departure” because so many people I know are leaving this city for good. I collected their stories and put them together in an illustrated book And We Have What We Lost – it’s about the scenes and emotions of bidding farewell. I originally thought the stories would mostly be about people immigrating to live elsewhere, but it turned out there are reasons people must part with each other than leaving Hong Kong for good or dying from Covid.
Image courtesy: the Artist
Can you share a story that moved you the most?
Many of the stories I collected were about families leaving Hong Kong in a hurry. Often the children could not grasp what was really happening, and the negative impact of not properly dealing with their parting with people and places would start surfacing a few months or a year later, in the form of rebelliousness or disrupted family lifestyle. Some stories are about family relations falling apart due to maladjustment to life in a foreign country. They are sad stories; there is perhaps a fifty percent chance these people will have to either give up their new lives abroad or accept the profound consequences of family relations breaking down and the children becoming very rebellious.
Image courtesy: the Artist
How would you imagine it be, if one day you have to bid farewell to your family and friends or the city you grew up in?
I think about it often, prompted by the fact that at one point I was going to the airport almost every day, in fact 15 times within the month, to say goodbye to somebody. Every time I think – what if the person leaving is me instead? A scene at the airport comes to my mind, but I don’t see myself crying. We’ll probably be composed and undramatic – knowing that we shall be seeing each other again in the future.
You have been creating illustrations based on the “Mask Man” over the past eight years. What made you choose the particular image and “space”?
When I started my creative work eight years ago, I wanted to create a character that everyone could identify with. It’s neutral – genderless, expressionless, not bound by body shape and so on. The result was the “Mask Man”. You want to find out what lies behind the mask – the face, the thoughts, the actions; it’s rather like the silence in miming. You want to find out the answers, and so you think, and imagine. I created the “Mask Man” eight years ago probably because it was the only thing I knew how to draw. I ended up drawing the same figure over and over again. It amuses me that I have inadvertently created a comforting constant amidst a world that has changed so much in the past eight years.
As we enter 2023, what are your personal and artistic aspirations?
The past few years have given me a profound thought: There’s no way anyone could really plan for the future because everything could change or vanish in the blink of an eye. This year, the meaning of “parting” to me is that many people have actually left. Two years ago I conducted a project called 100 Stories. It involved interviewing 100 people about their daily lives in 2020 and then sharing these stories in an illustrated book. I would like to find out what happened to them during the two years since then. I would like to know whether those who have left are still moving forward together with the rest of us, or if our lives have diverged and they have moved on for good. There was anger in many of the stories I collected in 2020, as in feeling being left behind or having unresolved issues about the decisions people have made. I am interested not only in telling stories about the moment of farewell and departure, but also what happens afterwards.
When the stories you hear are kind of sad, does it affect you emotionally? How do you handle it as a listener?
Sometimes people ask me whether being on the receiving end of so many sad stories might negatively impact my mental health. It is true that most stories I hear are not happy ones – I guess people are less inhibited when given the chance to pour their heart out to a stranger about the stresses and difficulties they are facing. I have learnt from experience how I should position myself. Now I know that offering my ears and my companionship to them is what matters to people. Empathy is about “I hear what you say” and “I’m with you in this part of the journey”. Accepting that it is not my place or ability to change people’s lives helps prevent myself from being overwhelmed by pressure.
Image courtesy: the Artist
As companion or as partner, that’s all I could offer myself. This is the city that I count myself lucky to be on a journey with. I am someone who is very loyal to my identity. I have never contemplated leaving Hong Kong for good to live elsewhere. Of course, I do not rule out overseas travels or even short stints living abroad to widen my horizons and see the world. But I feel good about being a Hongkonger and have no intention of changing my identity.