Kacey Wong’s Protest Art Goes on View in Hong Kong in the Wake of the Umbrella Movement

A pink tank and mini jails are among the offerings at Amelia Johnson Contemporary.

Kacey Wong, "The Real Cultural Bureau" (2012) framed photograph, 70 x 90 cm. Photo by Thomas Leung. Image from Amelia Johnson Contemporary.

Walking into Hong Kong’s most overtly political art show this week, we are confronted with a gallery awash in pink—a rosy, fleshy pink at once cheerful and stomach-churning. The color throws us straight into artist Kacey Wong’ absurdist world, where citizens passively view Hong Kong’s social and political problems through rose-tinted glasses.

“When you look at the Communists trying to enforce party rule in Hong Kong, they soften their approach by adding some white to their red. Surprisingly a lot of people buy this approach here, which is quite unfortunate,” says Wong to artnet News.

The artist has become known for participating in public demonstrations with outlandish artworks doubling as protest props, as well as initiating participatory art actions to promote awareness of Hong Kong’s political unrest. For instance, Wong began a mock design competition for the logo of last year’s Umbrella Movement (see Artists Design Logos for Hong Kong’s Umbrella Revolution), which went viral.

Three years ago, Wong caught public attention with his giant cardboard tank—painted pink—paraded through the streets of the city in a rally against plans to establish an official Cultural Bureau. A parodic emblem of the government’s attempt to further control the art and culture sector, the pink tank now sits in Amelia Johnson Contemporary as part of Wong’s exhibition “Art of Protest—Resisting Against Absurdity.” Together with the tank are some of Wong’s greatest hits from the past four years of his art-cum-political activism.

Kacey Wong, "The Real Cultural Bureau Tank" (2012) Cardboard, Wood, speaker, push cart, 200 x 470 x 200 cm. Image by Zoe Li.

Kacey Wong, “The Real Cultural Bureau Tank” (2012) Cardboard, Wood, speaker, push cart, 200 x 470 x 200 cm. Image by Zoe Li.

Wong was first inspired to take on political causes when mainland Chinese artist Ai Weiwei was arrested in 2011. “I realized what happened to Ai Weiwei could happen to any of us here in Hong Kong as well,” says Wong. He began to address what he calls “the blind spot in contemporary art” in which certain types of work will always be excluded from commercial art galleries. Wong endeavored to create platforms where social and political art could be seen by the masses.

The Umbrella Movement in 2014 was particularly inspirational for Wong. “You see a sudden explosion of public art during the Umbrella Movement because it’s a release of a new public space (the streets of Hong Kong). Suddenly anything is possible.”

Kacey Wong, "Hongkongese Warning Squad" (2014) edition of 5, Video, 3:30mins. Image from Amelia Johnson Contemporary.

Kacey Wong, “Hongkongese Warning Squad” (2014) edition of 5, Video, 3:30mins. Image from Amelia Johnson Contemporary.

The “Art of Protest” exhibition launched on Monday and is openly meant to benefit Wong’s political causes. All proceeds will be donated to political parties and social media platforms whose aim is the vaguely phrased “better improvement of Hong Kong.”

Judging from the works, these might be organizations that aim to instill a spirit of resistance amongst Hong Kong’s older generation, which the artist sees as too passive.

In an installation on the second floor, comfy couches and a beanbag are placed in front of television screens broadcasting news from the Umbrella Movement that took place from September to December 2014. Each viewer however is partitioned off by jail bars painted in a uniform pink. The viewer sits cozily in these cute pink jails, receiving edited versions of Hong Kong’s political protests.

When asked whether he would become a politician himself, Wong emphatically rejects the notion. “My role as an artist is not to solve the problem but to bring forth the problem, to address the blind spot of contemporary art, to generate emotions through art, so others can be touched and take action.”

“Kacey Wong’s Art of Protest — Resisting Against Absurdity,” March 2 – 28, 2015, at Amelia Johnson Contemporary, Hong Kong

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