Serious monkey business
Anew art exhibition in Hong Kong is aiming to raise awareness of shark conservation and bring an end to shark finning. The Hong Kong Maritime Museum has partnered with the international non-profit organization WildAid to present “On Sharks and Humanity” — a show featuring works by over 30 emerging and internationallyrecognized artists who have sought to marry the worlds of visual art and humanitarian action. Having already exhibited in Monaco, Moscow, Beijing and Singapore to great acclaim, the current stop in Hong Kong marks the fifth edition of the exhibition curated by Huang Du.
“An important part of the museum is to promote public understanding of how vital the world’s oceans are to global well-being”, says Hong Kong Maritime Museum director Richard Wesley. “Sharks are a critical part of the ocean’s ecosystem and are uniquely vulnerable to overfishing. This exhibi- tion highlights this message through some great art and I am confident a large number of Hong Kong people and tourists will agree (when they visit the museum) this summer.”
Bringing together artists from across Asia, the exhibition features sculpture, painting, film, photography and poetry. A host of educational and interactive programs have been designed to encourage more public participation. The idea is to make the show particularly appealing to children.
Highlights include Zheng Lu’s Tomb of Honour, a stainless steel sculpture of a large human heart made up of more than 10,000 fishing hooks, alluding to the cruelty human beings inflict on sharks. Liu Zining’s oil painting, Blue, presents a hyper realistic image in which a shark appears to be casting a sorrowful glance at the viewer. Hopefully, the humanized image will make at least one or two visitors to the show have second thoughts about seeing sharks as just cruel beasts of the sea.
Marcus Wong’s painting, Don’t Kill Me, looks at the theme through the eyes of a child. Drawing a tearful shark swimming in the ocean, Wong uses the words “don’t kill me” in a speech bubble to depict the innocence and helplessness of sharks, urging viewers to think beyond long-sustained prejudices held toward these sea creatures.
WildAid ambassador Alex Hofford said he hoped that the exhibition might help sensitize its audiences about the importance of protecting sharks, particularly since the authorities continue to grapple with the problem of stopping shark fin products from being smuggled into the city.
“Hong Kong lies at the dark heart of the shark fin trade,” said Hofford. “Whilst it is really important to show the public the science behind the unsustainable shark fin trade, art can really speak to the heart in a way that science cannot. Art can show in subtle emotional ways the horrific cruelty involved in the shark fin trade, hooking people on to our side in the debate.”
Local artist Peggy Chan is part of the show. “I’m delighted to play a part in raising Hong Kong’s art profile as well as awareness for such a worthy cause,” she said.
“In my work I like to explore the triangular relationship between the individual, city and nature, which worked really well with the topic for this exhibition. My installation, The Shore Beyond, combines three elements that interweave and spin, reflecting the ever-changing nature of life. You can’t predict how the artwork will change, much like life itself.”
While Chan believes that Hong Kong is making great strides to end the consumption of shark fin, she hopes “On Sharks and Humanity” will help tell the story to the general public in a more engaging way than they may have heard before.
“Art allows multiple interpretations of the subject that are tangible and visceral. It has the ability to reach a much wider audience than figures and facts could ever manage. We have to do something to stop the decline in shark populations — it is important to Hong Kong and to the world,” said Chan.