hiang Yomei is known to many people as the greatgranddaughter of Chiang Kai-shek, the late Kuomintang leader.
But her first solo exhibition in Hong Kong, to open onWednesday, will likely unveil to the public her lesser-known side as a Londonbased artist and a devout Buddhist whose works are rooted in Asian culture.
Chiang Yomei: Other Realms, running at Sotheby’s Hong Kong gallery through Nov 19, shows her paintings and installations. The centerpiece is a large-scale installation titled Crossing that makes its debut.
Many pairs of white shoes that can be worn by men, women and children, andmadeout of rice paper, are suspended to form a “river” of delicacy and slight translucency.
The audience can imagine the shoes representing peoplewhowalk through cycles of life and death and across different spiritual realms.
Chiang Yomei, 55, traces the work to the death of her grandfather, Chiang Ching-kuo— the eldest son and political heir of Chiang Kai-shek.
She remembers thatwhenChiang Ching-kuo died in 1988, an elderly housekeeper insisted on keeping a glass of water and his old slippers by his bed for the first 49 days of mourning, a period during which many Chinese believe the spirit of the deceased often returns.
“As I never got to say goodbye to my grandfather, I felt the only thing that connected me to the essence of him was the last pair of slippers he wore,” ChiangYomei tellsChina Daily in an e-mail interview.
She says shoes and the feet they protect have a symbolic resonance: 10 am-6pm, Monday to Friday, 11 am-5pm on Saturday, through Nov 19. 5F, One Pacific Place, 88 Queensway, Hong Kong. 852-2822-5566. People’s feet keep them grounded and transport them from place to place. Chinese people often embroider lotuses or ladders on funerary shoe soles to symbolize the “crossing over to the pure realm of enlightenment”.
She has inscribed the Sanskrit word ah, considered a symbol of transcendence in Buddhism, on the soles of the shoes at her show. And she chose the inner sole instead of the outer, which suggests the crossing is an inward one. “We come home to our true selves.”
She also relates to memories and people’s existence in her Cabinet series of which several installations are part of the same exhibition.
“I have always been interested in doors and interior spaces,” she says.
“A cabinet opened is a world revealed. Cabinets and drawers are places of secrets and memories; with one action we open up endless dimensions of our existence.”
In one work of the series, titled The Cabinet of Dreams, she attached a pair of paper baby shoes, the same as those used in Crossing, to a mirror inside an open cabinet. The shoes bear images of her as a child, her parents and grandparents.
“A dream begets a dream ad infinitum. Memories and thoughts are like this.
“But at the end of the day all these memories ... have no reality, they are mere illusions of the mind, phantoms that are empty of any identity.”
10 am-6 pm, Monday to Friday, 11 am-5 pm on Saturday, through Nov 19. 5F, One Pacific Place, 88 Queensway, Hong Kong. 852-2822-5566.
Chiang Yomei says she considers herself more Chinese than European though she’s lived in Britain for decades.