Cover Friends (2012) by Wong Ka Ying. (Photo: Wong Ka Ying)

These Hong Kong artists shed light on important gender issues everyone in the city should be talking about today.

To celebrate International Women’s Day, Tatler spoke to five Hong Kong female artists, each of whose work imparts personal stories and brings conversations around gender equality in Asia to the fore.

1. Claudia Chanhoi

Claudia Chanhoi isn’t afraid to show a woman’s breasts, bum and genitals in her murals, multimedia artworks and illustrations. Despite the cheekiness and playfulness of her colourful, cartoon-based images, Chanhoi says her art is inspired by her first romantic relationship as well as harassment she experienced when she was in her early 20s. “I felt frustrated, angry and confused,” she recalls. “Those experiences heightened my awareness as a woman in the modern era. I wanted to express my thoughts on gender inequality.” As she was then studying graphic and media design at university in London, she turned her emotions into a source of creativity, and explored the sexual objectification of women for her final project.

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Now, Chanhoi’s exhibitions and collaborations with commercial brands, such as Lelo and anti-sexual violence NGOs, break sexual taboos and drive conversation around women’s pleasure in Hong Kong. Chanhoi says that while it’s liberating that more women are getting equal opportunities, there is the misconception that women have to act like men or distance themselves from their femininity, especially in the workplace, to reach gender equality. “I think female-typical traits are still seen as inferior and considered lesser than male-typical traits,” she says.

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2. Kaitlin Chan

Kaitlin Chan is a cartoonist, gallerist and cultural worker from Hong Kong. Her struggle to conform to what a “good woman” is in Hong Kong, where gender roles are deeply entrenched, led to her interest in feminist, queer and trans politics and the exploration of these topics in her work. Her comics depict her personal experiences as a woman striving to find her own identity and power in social spaces and the workplace, and have appeared in The New YorkerPopula, The Margins and The Offing. She is also the co-founder of the mobile zine and book collection, Queer Reads Library.

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“I want to be part of a world where gender doesn’t restrain but is a space of exploration and self-acceptance,” she says. “I try to reflect on the messiness and strangeness of searching for community, intimacy and belonging.”

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3. Jaffa Lam

Visual artist Jaffa Lam approaches her art from two angles: the environment and social issues faced by women in Hong Kong. In 2009, she started “Micro Economy”, a community project in collaboration with the Hong Kong Women Workers’ Association. Through the project, she uses recycled umbrella fabric to create art that reflects on community development and the allocation of resources. She has since expanded her material choice to abandoned furniture and recycled crate wood and metal.

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Her latest work “Landscape Behind the Door”, which will be part of 10 Chancery Lane Gallery’s The 31 Women Exhibition in May, is a collaborated patchwork by a housewife and Lam herself that explores loneliness, freedom and self-identity. As viewers peer through a small hole in the middle of the quilt made up of recycled umbrella fabric to look at the sunshine and green landscape in a video projection, they become a part of the artwork but sensory audio, violent color, and the pleasure of voyeur experience the blurred definitions between the public and private, and loneliness and intimacy.

Lam explains, “We always define a person’s role according to society’s gender norm, which we consider as the moral standard. But what will and can a housewife do if she has the freedom to redecide her life again?”

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4. Wong Ka Ying

Photographing her own body parts are artist Wong Ka-ying’s main method of expressing her opinions related to women’s bodies. Aside from her self-portraits, Wong also works with a variety of media, such as paper boxes, video, silkscreening and acrylic paints to explore different gender topics. In her 2020 work “Blood Lily”, for instance, she painted white quilt covers and pillowcases with red lilies, which represent virginity and purity in western culture, to explore taboo subjects such as menstruation, and legends and curses related to sex and desire. In her 2019 show Ain’t No Your Fortune, she re-created fortune cookies in the colour and texture of female genitalia to suggest how women’s bodies should not be fetishised, owned or traded as products in a capitalist, patriarchal society.

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Currently, she is working on her first NFT drop with The Screen Guru, a local intellectual property management platform for art. The NFT work, “Yesterday Girl”, is made up of 90 AI-generated pictures of Wong’s face to reflect on how a woman reclaims her identity and social media image in the digital age.

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5. Bobby Yu Shuk Pui

Currently based in Oslo, Norway, Hong Kong visual artist Bobby Yu Shuk-pui uses video, text, installation, sculpture and performance as a way to critique social phenomena. She once produced silicone sex toys in the shape and size of her breasts in the sculpture “You’re So Small, So Chinese”. Placed on the gallery floor, the silicone pieces were easily stepped on and broken by viewers in a comment on the commodification of a woman’s body. In 2017, Yu participated in the Miss Hong Kong pageant, and made use of the experience in her exhibition Miss Perpetual: Form Piece, which consists of the TVB application documents for Miss Hong Kong over the decades, showing the city’s evolving cultural ideals of femininity.

Lately, inspired by the paradox where the modern society is both reliant on and scared of genetic engineering, Yu is working on Genetic Salon, an ongoing project that started in Hong Kong in 2018. She works with people across industries including scientists, housewives, actors, scholars and collectors to explore the relationship between genetic technology and the human body, theology, history and anime. Originally presented as a podcast with the Hong Kong Radio Community,  her project will be shown in Oslo in the forms of an installation, sculpture, 3D animation and video.

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