“The Silent Strength of Liu Xia,” the touring exhibition of 26 photos by the dissident Chinese photographer, artist, and poet, opened on June 9 , 2012 in Hong Kong. This first-ever presentation of her work on Chinese soil was sponsored by the Independent Chinese PEN Center (ICPC).
The Hong Kong exhibition will appear at two consecutive venues. First, it will reside at the City University of Hong Kong from June 9-23. Founded as City Polytechnic of Hong Kong in 1984, the school assumed full university status in 1994. (Tat Chee Avenue, Kowloon, Hong Kong. T: (852) 3442-7654. Click here for directions.) The opening ceremony and initial installation were held on CityU’s outdoor Covered Terrace; after a week at that site, the installation moved indoors to the University’s “Purple Zone.”
After two weeks at CityU, it will move to the Hong Kong Arts Centre, June 25-July 2. Established in 1977, self-described as “a hub for arts and community,” the Hong Kong Arts Centre (HKAC) is a self-funding organization whose mission is to promote contemporary arts and culture within Hong Kong and beyond. The Centre provides a wide range of programmes featuring local and overseas artists, with facilities including theatres, a cinema, galleries, classrooms, studios, a café and office space. (2 Harbour Road, Wanchai, Hong Kong; T. (852) 2582-0200. Click here for map.)
Sponsorship of this exhibition by the Independent Chinese PEN Center connects directly to the ICPC’s history. Liu Xia’s husband, the now-imprisoned Chinese dissident who received the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize, served on the ICPC’s board from October 2003 to October 2009, and served as the organization’s president from October 2003 to October 2007.
Yu Jie, the exiled mainland dissident now in the United States, wrote of that involvement, “. . . [F]or a decade, Liu Xiaobo had been my brother and closest friend; when he was the president of the Independent Chinese PEN Center, I was vice president [October 2005-October 2007]; and I had personally experienced almost all of the human rights activities that he participated in.”
For logistical reasons, this showing of “The Silent Strength of Liu Xia” involved production of a second set of prints of the images. Those got made in Taipei and then shipped to Hong Kong, where they got framed and incorporated into an installation designed by the “behavioural artist” Sanmu (三木), who also performed during the opening ceremonies. He created a freestanding framework of walls bearing a greatly enlarged detail from one of Liu Xia’s images (a cluster of beach rocks), against which the framed photographs leaned while resting on the floor, as finished works might get displayed in an artist’s studio.
In addition, Tienchi Martin-Liao (president of the ICPC) had arranged with Amnesty International for the shipping to Hong Kong of “The Empty Chair,” a work by the Dutch designer Maarten Baas created for AI. The sculptural metal chair, whose ladderback turns into a towering ladder leading skyward, symbolizes the world’s imprisoned and otherwise fettered writers and other spokespersons for peace, freedom, and justice.
Sanmu and Patrick Poon of the ICPC had decided to incorporate this resonant artifact into the Liu Xia installation. Uncrated and assembled at the end of the morning’s ceremonies, the chair (minus its top section — it proved too tall for the space) when positioned supported Liu Xia’s portrait of Liu Xiaobo holding the doll that represents him in her photographs, giving him a visual presence at the event in addition to the many acknowledgments of his spiritual presence there by the attendees and speakers.
The ICPC also produced a catalogue for the exhibition, in both Chinese and English, including new essays on Liu Xia’s work. The catalogue was designed by Gary Tong of TGIF.
The ICPC’s daylong June 9 program began with short talks about Liu Xia and her work by curator A. D. Coleman, Tienchi Martin-Liao, Marian Botsford Fraser (chair of PEN International’s Writers in Prison Committee), Prof. Joseph Cheng (director of the Contemporary China Research Project at City University of Hong Kong), and Sarah Hoffman (coordinator of PEN American Center’s Freedom to Write Committee). The opening ceremony also included readings of several of Liu Xia’s and Liu Xiaobo’s poems, and a performance by Wong Loi Hung of short violin pieces. (Plus Sanmu’s intermittent actions.) Click here for a raw-footage video of the entire ceremony, courtesy of Hong Kong SocRec.
A detail from one of Liu Xia’s images, and the title of her show, formed part of the backdrop for the entirety of the proceedings (click on the image to enlarge it):
Materials available from this exhibition:
- Press releases from the ICPC (PDF) and PEN American Center.
- The program of the opening ceremonies for the exhibition. (PDF)
- The poster for the exhibition. (PDF)
- The catalogue for the exhibition — Part 1, Part 2, Part 3. (PDF)
- Catalogue essays by A. D. Coleman, Tienchi Martin-Liao, and Marian Botsford Fraser.
- Curator’s remarks by A. D. Coleman. (PDF)
- Remarks by Marian Botsford Fraser. (PDF)
- Remarks by Sarah Hoffman. (PDF)
- Slideshow of the event. (Forthcoming.)
Press response to the Hong Kong showing has proved substantial and (mostly) favorable. Here are links to some of those reports and reviews, arranged chronologically:
- Ming Pao Daily News: Preview of the exhibition (in Chinese), June 8, 2012.
- Sharp Daily: Preview of the exhibition (in Chinese), June 8, 2012.
- Economics Times: Preview of the exhibition (in Chinese), June 8, 2012.
- ITN Source: “CHINA: An exhibit in Hong Kong shows photographs of jailed Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo taken by his wife Liu Xia,” interviews and commentary by Venus Wu of Thomson Reuters with A. D. Coleman, Tienchi Martin-Liao, and others who participated in the Hong Kong opening ceremony, June 9, 2012.
- Yahoo News: Untitled (photo by Bobby Yip with caption — “A visitor stands in front of a photograph of Nobel Laureate Liu Xiaobo . . . ), June 9, 2012.
- AlertNet (Reuters): Untitled (photo by Bobby Yip with caption — “A performing artist takes part in the opening ceremony of a photo exhibition by Liu Xia . . . ), June 9, 2012.
- Flickr — PEN International’s Photostream: Some images of the event, June 9, 2012.
- Associated Press: “APTOPIX Hong Kong Liu Xiaobo,” June 9, 2012 (photos by Kin Cheung, with captions).
- “A visitor looks at a photo of 2010 Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo holding a doll taken by his wife, Chinese artist Liu Xia . . . “
- A second view of the same installation.
- Chinese journalist Gao Yu at the opening ceremony.
- Yao Jianfu, mainland Chinese author of “Conversations with Chen Xitong,” and Gao Yu at the opening ceremony.
- Yao Jianfu at the opening ceremony.
- Apple Daily: Captioned photo of installation, June 10, 2012. (In Chinese.)
- Apple Daily: Short video on the opening ceremony, June 10, 2012. (In Chinese.)
- The State: Untitled (photo by unidentified photographer from Getty Images, with caption — “A woman walks past photographs by Liu Xia . . . “), in this South Carolina site’s “Daily Edit” slideshow, June 10, 2012.
- Richie Tse: This blogger, a 31-year-old conceptual artist, thought the installation was disrespectful. With 4 of his photos thereof, June 11, 2012.
- RTHK.HK/The Works: The English channel of this site has a regular arts report, “The Works,” hosted by Ben Pelletier and Ben Tse, that featured the exhibition, with commentary in Chinese (captioned in English) by Prof. Joseph Cheng, June 12, 2012. (As posted on YouTube.)
- Hong Kong SocRec: Complete unedited video of the entire 1-hour opening ceremony for the Liu Xia exhibition at CityU, posted on YouTube by Hong Kong SocRec (Social Record) on June 12, 2012.
- The Daily PEN American (blog): “Liu Xiaobo in Hong Kong,” by Sarah Hoffman, June 14, 2012.
- daylife: Liu Xia. Untitled (photo by unidentified photographer from Getty Images, with caption — “A woman walks past photographs by Liu Xia . . . “), plus Associated Press photo of Yao Jianfu at the opening, June 18, 2012.
- Newsday: Untitled (photo by unidentified photographer from Getty Images, with caption — “A woman walks past photographs by Liu Xia . . . ” — same image, same caption, inexplicably titled “Columbia University.” No date.
- Free More News (FMN): “’Power of silence’ by Liu Xia,” by Lucy Li, June 20, 2012. (Nine captioned images of the installation.)
- Radio Free Asia: Short video report on the opening ceremony, June 21, 2012. (In Chinese.)
- Independent Chinese PEN Center (ICPC) newsletter: Report on the exhibition from its sponsor, by Patrick Poon, June 28, 2008. (In Chinese and English.)
- Independent Chinese PEN Center (ICPC): Facebook page with photos of the “Empty Chair” by Weng Shuanghua（翁雙華).