Woman Of Hope: Daphne King-Yao of Alisan Fine Arts
Having been recently nominated for the Women of Hope award, Daphne King-Yao, the director of Alisan Fine Arts, is not only a gallerist but also a dedicated philanthropist in the arts and culture sector. Following her passion for art, Daphne is a trustee of the Friends of the Hong Kong Museum, and a board member of The Ink Society and Hong Kong Ballet. She is also a board member of Le French May, the annual month-long programme that promotes cultural exchange between Hong Kong and France.
Founded by Daphne’s mother Alice Kung in 1981, Alisan Fine Arts was one of Hong Kong’s first galleries and is known for its efforts to promote Chinese contemporary art. In 1997, Daphne left the advertising industry to assist her mum with the operations of the gallery and has since worked with countless world-renowned artists.
We sat down for a chat with Daphne at her gallery in Central to talk about Women of Hope and her journey as a female leader in the local art scene:
What does Women of Hope mean to you?
Women from different fields come together to bring hopes to those who are less fortunate and as a result, they can also inspire other women to make the world a better place.
In March this year, I held the HOPE exhibition here at the gallery that was dedicated to Women of Hope. Through the exhibition, we showcased Chinese women artists from around the world who are at different stages of their careers, including Fan Zhaoling who has passed away; Chinyee, a Chinese American artist who is in her 80s and still producing art work at her studio every day; Zhang Xiaoli as well as Hong Kong emerging artist Cherie Cheuk Ka-wai. It was a way to showcase the works of women artists and to give these artists a platform to be able to exhibit and at the same time, they were also able to give back because they were donating part of the proceeds from the sales of their paintings to the Women of Hope organisation.
Alisan Fine Arts went from being one of Hong Kong’s first art galleries. The local art scene has certainly changed since then. How has the journey of managing Alisan Fine Arts been for you?
It’s been an amazing journey. I joined the gallery in 1997 right before the handover, it was a time when there were just a handful of galleries in Hong Kong. Back then, there were collectors of Chinese classical paintings and porcelain, but people didn't really appreciate Chinese contemporary art. It was a big educational process for us.
Personally, I’ve been really fortunate because my mother laid a good foundation for the gallery. I was able to be involved from the start and then take off with what she has built. It’s exciting to see people’s perceptions of Chinese contemporary art change over time.
What was the most important lesson you learned from your mother?
I’ve always seen her as my mother rather than my boss. Soon after I got married and had kids, she told me the kids would grow up quickly so I needed to be with them as much as possible.
I think as a woman, it’s really important and encouraging to hear that while having a successful career, we should still try to find a balance between our career and time with our children. That was an important lesson to me and I will probably tell my daughter the same thing.
Can you tell us about the most unforgettable show that you’ve worked on?
Alisan Fine Arts’ 35th anniversary exhibition in 2016. In conjunction with the exhibition, we also produced a book about the history of Alisan Fine Arts. We spent about two years putting the book together as it documents the history of the gallery and every single exhibition we’ve done. We went through all the archives, we found materials such as photos and correspondence.
Correspondence was the most interesting part because we found hand-written letters from the artists we worked with. These are precious, as people no longer communicate this way. These letters were really touching because it shows how crucial the relationship between artists and art galleries is.
When we launched the book in September 2016, we also had a huge exhibition at Hong Kong Central Library where we showcased 35 artists to represent 35 years of Alisan. It was really hard to select which artists’ works to include. We tried to get the pieces that we had sold to museums or important collectors to showcase at the exhibition. It was like a big reunion of artworks, collectors and museum directors.
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Do you have any advice for aspiring art professionals on how to achieve success in the art scene?
If you are sure you want to work in the art sector, majoring in art history will definitely help. No matter what you do, passion should always come first.