Published: 5/2/2024

Jaffa LAM Laam, the Academic Head of the Hong Kong Art School, artist specialises in sculpture installation. Jaffa’s practice has long focused on social engagement. In this exhibition, she showcased the artwork series “Hybrid Peace_HK Orchid Tree,” which is a collaboration with a team of seamstresses to reconfigure discarded umbrella fabric into flags. In this interview, she shares her long-standing collaboration with women workers and the underlying thoughts behind this artwork.

Looking back at Jaffa’s artistic practice over the years, she has been fond of using various recycled materials in her creations. As early as 2008, the artist was inspired by the cleaning workers’ process of categorising recycled garbage. “I was inspired by the way they recycled umbrellas.” Since 2009, she has collaborated with Hong Kong Women Workers’ Association, creating a series of installation artwork with recycled umbrella fabric. Such contact with workers has slowly evolved into a prolonged collaboration. Over the years, Jaffa centres many of her works’ subject matter around the lives of Hong Kong’s middle-lower class households, highlighting their plight under socio-economic transition.

The inspiration for this artwork, Hybrid Peace_HK Orchid Tree, came from Bauhinia, the flower of Hong Kong, hinting at the city’s unique blend of Eastern and Western influences stemming from its colonial history. Jaffa links the protective, lightness and transparent nature of umbrella fabric with Bauhinia. The art installation is presented in three primary colours, blue, red, and yellow, as a symbol of Hong Kong’s flexibility and tenacity.

Collecting the materials was challenging, but Jaffa felt that made the work stand out. “What did people go through with their umbrellas before throwing it away? In the work, you can see fabrics from different eras; some contain logos of schools, supermarkets, other brands, and cartoon characters, carrying different stories and collective memories of the city. People of all ages will have different feelings when standing in front of the artwork.” Jaffa mentioned that the artwork actually has four coloured flags: blue, red, yellow, and grey. However, the grey flag was on display overseas. She playfully remarked that “the four flags may not be brought together again in the future, but perhaps that would echo the concept of the work: first united, then separated, only to be together again.”

Jaffa has pondered on how to enhance the interaction between her artwork and the audience, though she has been troubled by the unintentional damage to her work. She expressed that artists need to be more patient in guiding the audience. Hybrid Peace_HK Orchid Tree is intentionally installed to be viewed from multiple angles, enabling viewers to situate themselves freely in the space. She hopes that viewers can not only see the work from the surface but also immerse themselves in it, savouring its artistic conception under the spotlight.