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“The chief trouble is we cannot stop men thinking.” — Lu Xun

Hong Kong 2012 (1)

Independent Chinese PEN Center (ICPC) logo

“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).

City University of Hong Kong logoThe 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.”

Hong Kong Arts Centre logo

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.)

Liu Xiaobo

Liu Xiaobo

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.”

Liu Xia installation, City University of Hong Kong, June 9, 2012. Photo © 2012 by A. D. Coleman.

Liu Xia installation, City University of Hong Kong, June 9, 2012. Photo © 2012 by A. D. Coleman.

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.

Liu Xia installation with the "Empty Chair," Hong Kong, June 9, 2012. Photo © 2012 by A. D. Coleman.

Liu Xia installation with the “Empty Chair,” Hong Kong, June 9, 2012. Photo © 2012 by A. D. Coleman.

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.

Liu Xia exhibition catalogue, June 2012, Hong Kong, cover.

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):

ICPC Ceremony, Hong Kong, June 9, 2012. Photo © 2012 by Tsoi Wing Mui.

ICPC Ceremony, Hong Kong, June 9, 2012. Photo © 2012 by Tsoi Wing Mui.

Materials available from this exhibition:

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:

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