(Unpacking): An Artistic Journey of Exploring Identity Across Borders

Published: 6/5/2024


Who knew that a paper napkin with the words “Infinity” spontaneously scribbled on it could lead to an exhibition. “Unpacking” brings together Australia-based Hong Kong artists Judy Kong, Kelly So, Cheryl Liu, and Wise Yeung in a multimedia art exhibition featuring sound installations, sculptures, and ceramic works. As emigrant Hong Kongers living in Australia, the four artists reflect on their unique perspectives as both outsiders looking in and insiders looking out.

All four alumni artists coincidentally studied at the Hong Kong Art School and RMIT University in Australia. Born, raised, and educated in Hong Kong before moving to Australia, their new experiences and environment suddenly made them “Australian/Hong Kongers,” prompting them to re-evaluate their dual identities and histories and continuously deconstruct and reconstruct their personal narratives. Their exchanges allowed them to better understand each other’s situations and establish deeper connections.

Judy felt that immigrating to Australia where familiar people were no longer around, she began to experience many new things. Friends’ support became more important and each new scenario became an opportunity to influence and understand herself, discovering self-characteristics she hadn’t known before. “Perhaps it’s the shared new life experiences that brought us closer and helped us better understand each other’s situations, so we often gathered together for broader discussions.” Cheryl noted how they often went to school together and spent a lot of time after school to talk about their works, lives, and identities. Trying to find their own positions and identities, they had extensive conversations that resulted in a better understanding of themselves.

Despite Australia being a place that nourishes arts and culture, Wise admitted to feeling lost at times. “I met many foreign friends and realised that my cultural background and identity were not fully understood. Are we just students going to study? Or do we have the right to stay in the local area and choose where to live?”

The four alumni artists became each other’s support and strength during their time in Australia, establishing a close friendship that ultimately led to their forming a collaborative team. They invited an external third party to evaluate their works objectively, and the terms of the group exhibition were written on a paper napkin. This ‘contract’ secured the start of their plan, a simple yet significant emblem of their mutual faith and persistence towards the collaboration.

They decided to return to Hong Kong and hold an exhibition under their identity as Hong Kongers. With differing family backgrounds but shared perspectives, they wanted to showcase their works as Hong Kongers, the importance of their identities, and their understanding and exploration of Hong Kong culture.

Kelly revealed that the inspiration behind the exhibition name “Unpacking” initially came from English. During a particularly memorable gathering, the artists talked about constantly travelling between Australia and Hong Kong and the word “unpack” came up. This word connected the four ’strangers’ as they “unpacked” not only the belongings of their suitcases but also their histories and experiences. Whether it was from Australia to Hong Kong or vice versa, they grew and developed through constant deconstruction and reconstruction, pondering whether their interaction had influenced their individual experiences. Though they realised that “unpacking” couldn’t be accurately translated into Chinese, they believed that it should be rooted in their mother tongue to explain the meaning of this exhibition. Kelly discovered that their identities, thoughts, histories, and lives have been constantly and continuously changing. This change is neither positive nor negative but rather an infinite exploration. “So we felt that the word ”Unpacking” resonated with our state of mind and experiences. It describes the vastness of nature, such as the ocean and grasslands. We believe that this word also aptly describes the theme of our exhibition, so we decided to use it as the name.”

Unpacking — Exhibition at The Gallery of Hong Kong Art School
Exhibition Period: 12 Apr – 23 May 2024
Time: 11am – 8pm (Closed on Sundays & Public Holidays)
Venue: The Gallery of Hong Kong Art School (10/F, Hong Kong Arts Centre, 2 Harbour Road, Wan Chai, Hong Kong)
Artists: Judy Kong  |  So Ka Yan  |  Liu Sin Tung  |  Yeung Sun Wai