Phi­lan­thropy

A highly per­sonal se­ries of images by Wing Shya goes on show this month as part of a phil­an­thropic col­lab­o­ra­tion be­tween the renowned pho­tog­ra­pher and a hos­pi­tal foun­da­tion, writes Mar­i­anna Cerini

Hong Kong Tatler - - Contents -

A strik­ing se­ries of images by Wing Shya goes on show as part of a phil­an­thropic col­lab­o­ra­tion be­tween the renowned pho­tog­ra­pher and a hos­pi­tal foun­da­tion

Wing Shya may be one of Asia’s best known and re­spected pho­tog­ra­phers, but he’s dis­arm­ingly self-ef­fac­ing as we chat in his Chai Wan stu­dio about his com­ing ex­hi­bi­tion, a fundrais­ing col­lab­o­ra­tion with the Hong Kong Ad­ven­tist Hos­pi­tal Foun­da­tion. “I never re­ally felt like a good pho­tog­ra­pher un­til I did this,” he says of Sweet Sorrow, an un­set­tling se­ries of images of young Hongkongers that will be shown pub­licly for the first time this month.

Wing shot his sub­jects in strik­ing, oth­er­worldly out­fits against black back­drops or bleak city set­tings to give voice to his per­spec­tives on love, hope and iso­la­tion amid un­remit­ting ur­ban­i­sa­tion. The Hong Kong­born artist, famed for his work with film direc­tor Wong Kar-wai, spent al­most a year draft­ing sto­ry­lines for the photos and then more than six months se­lect­ing the mod­els— not pro­fes­sion­als, just or­di­nary peo­ple from var­i­ous walks of life. The 30 images pro­vide a pow­er­ful so­cial cri­tique of to­day’s youth that touches on vul­ner­a­bil­ity, lone­li­ness and body image.

“It’s one of the projects I’m most proud of,” says Wing. “I’m mostly known for com­mer­cial projects, but Sweet Sorrow is dif­fer­ent; I de­vel­oped it in­de­pen­dently, out of my own pocket and over the course of al­most two years. It’s my way to voice my dis­quiet about Hong Kong’s younger gen­er­a­tion. It’s also a visual ex­per­i­ment I had to go through to val­i­date my­self as an artist.”

In one photo, a bare-chested, tat­tooed man wear­ing pat­terned trousers and tall geta (tra­di­tional wooden Ja­panese footwear) looks into the cam­era with an ex­pres­sion both de­fi­ant and de­tached. Another shows a cou­ple in pink rab­bit ears and wigs wrapped to­gether in white fur like con­joined twins, with speck­les of colour on their bare legs. The ef­fect should be cute, but set against a dark back­ground it’s in­con­gru­ous and pre­pos­ter­ous. In a nighttime ur­ban scene, a cou­ple on a roof, he in a ki­mono, she in a black-and-white Min­nie Mouse cos­tume, seem to be about to jump to their deaths. Vi­brantly coloured car­toon­ish scrawls, added dig­i­tally by Wing, emerge from build­ings in the dis­tance, maybe in an ef­fort to lighten the mood. But view­ing the sui­ci­dal fig­ures, their backs to us, there ap­pears to be no space for hope.

“Wing’s work is very dis­tinc­tive,” says the chair­man of the hos­pi­tal foun­da­tion, Jo Sootang. “The photos aren’t ev­ery­one’s cup of tea, but they cer­tainly make an im­pact. They’re edgy. We want to as­so­ciate that with the idea of en­gag­ing with char­i­ties. Com­ing to view the Sweet Sorrow show and con­tribut­ing to the foun­da­tion’s Can­cer Fund of­fers peo­ple a dif­fer­ent way of giv­ing back to the com­mu­nity.”

The ex­hi­bi­tion, to be staged at Loft 22 in Cen­tral, will be the first time Wing’s project is shown pub­licly. The pic­tures have lain dor­mant in his stu­dio for

“IT’S ONE OF THE PROJECTS I’M MOST PROUD OF. I’M MOSTLY KNOWN FOR COM­MER­CIAL PROJECTS, BUT SWEET SORROW IS DIF­FER­ENT; I DE­VEL­OPED IT IN­DE­PEN­DENTLY, OUT OF MY OWN POCKET AND OVER THE COURSE OF AL­MOST TWO YEARS”

three years. “I cre­ated Sweet Sorrow as a per­sonal project,” he ex­plains, “and I wasn’t too in­ter­ested in show­ing it to an au­di­ence. Then Jo Soo-tang got in touch.”

Jo takes up the story. “We were look­ing to or­gan­ise a cre­ative event linked to phi­lan­thropy, pro­mot­ing some­thing or some­one that could cham­pion Hong Kong’s con­tem­po­rary cul­ture and art scene. Va­lerie Chow, who’s one of our am­bas­sadors, con­nected us to Wing. She’s a mu­tual friend, and af­ter see­ing some of the photos pri­vately, she thought they would be a good fit for us.”

Wing was only too happy to be­come in­volved in help­ing the foun­da­tion, whose char­i­ta­ble outreach pro­grammes sup­port fi­nan­cially dis­ad­van­taged pa­tients and work to pro­mote early di­ag­no­sis and treat­ment. He is “re­ally grate­ful for the op­por­tu­nity to show the images,” Wing says, though “for space rea­sons, I will only be dis­play­ing 15 out of the 30.

I’m glad the foun­da­tion found Sweet Sorrow a home so it can reach a wider public for a good cause.”

All money raised from the col­lab­o­ra­tion—the first time the foun­da­tion has or­gan­ised an art show, and Wing’s first phil­an­thropic ven­ture—will go to the foun­da­tion’s Can­cer Fund to help pro­vide free MRI and PET-CT scans for un­der­priv­i­leged pa­tients. The ex­hi­bi­tion is free to the public, with the prints avail­able for pur­chase through the foun­da­tion. On the evening of March 14, a tick­eted open­ing re­cep­tion will take place at which guests will be in­vited to pledge do­na­tions.

Sweet Sorrow runs from March 14-17 at Loft 22, Cal­i­for­nia Build­ing, Cen­tral. Tick­ets for the March 14 open­ing re­cep­tion are HK$800 and avail­able through hkahf.org.hk or joyce.che­ung@ hkahf.org.hk.

MIND GAMES Wing Shya’s sub­jects of­ten have life­less ex­pres­sions, cre­at­ing un­set­tling con­trasts with their bold out­fits. Right: Jo Soo-tang

YOUTH, RE­VIS­ITED “Some of my sub­jects are dressed in cute out­fits,” says Wing Shya (left). “But they don’t look en­dear­ing. They are like dolls. They don’t re­alise they’re hu­man”

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