Like so many others in current months, manga artist Tony Lau Kwong-shing packed up his Hong Kong life this summer season and bid his family and friends farewell.
The second he touched down on Taiwanese soil “was a breath of reduction,” mentioned the 31-year-old, who arrived in Taipei in mid-July. He had been very open about his plans to go away within the months earlier than his departure. However he saved the small print of his journey secret, afraid he wouldn’t be allowed to go away.
Days earlier than Beijing imposed its nationwide safety legislation (NSL) on Hong Kong, Lau had revealed “A Fallen Metropolis,” a quantity of sketches and scenes captured throughout the 2019 pro-democracy protests. Lau’s different drawings illustrating Hong Kong’s post-NSL political transformation popped up often on social media within the following months.
Lau has lived with anxiousness and dread as authorities stress artists and different inventive business sectors to fall in keeping with the nationwide safety legislation and be “patriotic” in the direction of mainland China
Earlier than Lau left Hong Kong, his father gave him his blessing, and a warning: “Don’t come again whenever you go away this time.”
When Hong Kong’s nationwide safety legislation was promulgated on July 1, 2020, authorities officers insisted it could have an effect on “solely a tiny minority of individuals.” However Hong Kong’s internationally famend–and economically essential–inventive sector has been feeling the warmth. Citing nationwide safety, the federal government has handed new censorship laws for Hong Kong’s film industry, including provisions that will allow films to be retroactively banned.
On November 12, the HK$70 billion Hong Kong M+ artwork museum is ready to launch, and with it town’s ambitions as a worldwide modern artwork capital. Nonetheless, pro-Beijing officers are already calling for M+ and different public museums to be regulated to display out artwork that will endanger nationwide safety.
Main the marketing campaign in opposition to Hong Kong’s inventive industries is Chinese language state-owned media, which have attacked the federal government’s Arts Development Council for allegedly funding work by “troublemakers” that will have violated the safety legislation.The state-backed media assaults on the humanities council prompted three elected members to resign in August, one among whom cited issues for his personal and his household’s security.
The exact variety of artists selecting to go away Hong Kong is troublesome to doc, however Taiwanese authorities statistics show over 10,000 Hongkongers had been granted short-term residency visas in 2020, an 84.6 per cent enhance from 2019.
The federal government has maintained that town’s freedoms are nonetheless assured, so long as they don’t endanger nationwide safety. However critics say that the “crimson strains” are intentionally ambiguous and always shifting.
Seeing crimson flags
Within the weeks earlier than Lau boarded his flight to Taipei, the artist noticed one thing he by no means imagined he would see.
“I keep in mind earlier than I left, I noticed posters celebrating the Chinese language Communist Social gathering’s 100 yr anniversary within the MTR. I couldn’t imagine that this type of advert might exist in Hong Kong. It was so surreal,” Lau mentioned. The visible reminder of Beijing’s encroachment on Hong Kong’s promised autonomy cemented Lau’s resolution to go away town for good.
“Hong Kong now’s always altering. And the adjustments are increasingly restrictive,” Lau mentioned.
He added that though he didn’t imagine all artwork needs to be political–and far of his personal work is just not– the shrinking area for inventive freedom nonetheless impacts his inventive output–and his livelihood. Within the yr earlier than he left, he seen a considerable drop in commissions for manga tasks after he began posting political sketches on-line.
“Inventive freedom for a manga artist is extraordinarily essential,” he mentioned.The week after Lau arrived in Taipei, 5 leaders of Hong Kong’s speech therapists’ commerce union were arrested over the publication of a collection of youngsters’s books. The police claimed the books, a few village of sheep defending their house from wolves, were “seditious.”
“Even once I revealed my e-book ‘A Fallen Metropolis’, I didn’t assume I might really feel any stress. However… these fixed arrests made me fear whether or not this e-book can be a cause for them to focus on me,” he mentioned.
Lau isn’t the one Hong Kong artist who left for Taiwan to get out of the safety legislation’s shadow. Effectively-known efficiency artist Kacey Wong made worldwide headlines final month when he posted his farewell letter to Hong Kong within the type of a music video set to Vera Lynn’s wartime basic, “We’ll Meet Once more.”
“For me, that is no immigration. I’m in self exile,” the 51-year-old advised HKFP from his new base in Taichung, central Taiwan. Wong is within the strategy of establishing his new studio, referred to as “Drift Exile.”
He made his exit plan after authorities arrested 53 former pro-democracy lawmakers and election hopefuls on safety prices in early January, for working in a self-organized main ballot. “We’re speaking about publicly elected councillors and to arrest them–which means no legislation, no order–that was a big alarm bell, I need to go away,” he mentioned.
His intuition that it was time to go proved spot on. Only a week after he utilized for his Taiwan visa in February, Wong’s title appeared on a “needed listing” of figures in an article in Ta Kung Pao, a Chinese language state-owned newspaper that these days is a bellwether for upcoming authorities and police actions. When the safety legislation was first imposed on Hong Kong final yr, Wong had advised HKFP he believed the legislation would galvanise creativity within the metropolis. His eventual resolution to go away was a means to make sure his personal inventive creativity continues “by no matter means obligatory.”
“Some [artists] may go underground, some could present their work from home, or in undisclosed locations with censored audiences to play it secure, some artists are doing that. For me, shifting to Taiwan is strictly this type of inventive response to this rising limitation on the humanities.”
Lau and Wong now are free to proceed their inventive profession in Taiwan. Most Hong Kong artists gained’t be so lucky. The Employment Gold Card, a particular visa scheme that allowed these two artists to determine residence in Taiwan, units a really excessive bar for candidates. Artists should show their credentials with proof of labor exhibited at worldwide arts festivals, and internationally recognised awards.
“I do know many who wish to go away [Hong Kong] however can’t. Essentially the most direct means is to return to Taiwan on an funding visa, however we [artists] all don’t have that a lot cash,” the manga artist mentioned.
‘Artwork will develop into pure leisure’
The velocity with which authorities have clamped down on the inventive sector additionally stunned Lau, the manga artist. “Earlier than, I believed this is able to occur in ten years’ time, but it surely’s occurred virtually instantly,” he advised HKFP.
“I feel Hong Kong’s future is that it’ll develop into precisely the identical as some other mainland metropolis, each when it comes to town’s look but additionally individuals’s hearts. Everybody will not have essential considering. They might even report on others who don’t assume the identical means as they do,” Lau mentioned.
“There will certainly be no extra space for essential artwork. I feel artwork will develop into purely for leisure. As a result of artwork that exists for leisure may be very straightforward to regulate, and gained’t provoke sure polarising views among the many individuals.”
“If even the chance to assume for your self is sealed off, I feel artwork will simply develop into pure leisure and never contact individuals’s hearts,” he continued.
The hollowing of artwork within the metropolis will imply increasingly Hong Kong artists will go away, the artist predicts.
“They may discover it too exhausting to get used to the stress… I’ve pals who used to get authorities funding for his or her work, and now if we get funding, the federal government has much more cause to regulate what we create… now they won’t allow you to draw issues they don’t wish to see, and even require that you just make sure issues they take into account to be right.”
Wong additionally believes the way forward for artwork in Hong Kong shall be one-dimensional. “I suppose extra ornamental stuff goes to seem,” he mentioned. “Artists are tremendous delicate, in order that they will even self-censor for the reason that worth to pay is simply too excessive.”
“[The art world] shall be cleansed robotically, and it’ll go into this code that we now have already witnessed in mainland China.”
Buying and selling locations
Paradoxically, Taiwan and Hong Kong have traded locations as inventive havens. Earlier than 1987, throughout Taiwan’s 4 a long time of martial legislation, books banned by the federal government discovered keen printers in Hong Kong. Now, greater than thirty years later the cultural circulation is shifting in the other way, and Taiwan has develop into a refuge for Hongkongers looking for inventive freedom.
Wong mentioned he’s discovering quite a lot of issues about Taiwan that remind him of Hong Kong, in an earlier period. “That is how I grew up, with completely different cultures and completely different opinions and selecting by myself.” However sadly proper now, with the Chinese language Communist Social gathering’s crackdown on Hong Kong, that’s not doable.”
Settling in, beginning over
Taiwan, with its comparable tradition and sturdy artwork scene, was an apparent alternative for each Lau and Wong. However the expertise of settling into a brand new place has been simpler for one artist, much less so for the opposite.
For Lau, the younger manga artist, relocating to Taiwan was surprisingly comfy. He was capable of faucet into his present Taiwanese fan base and community, and the nation’s Japanese cultural affect is a boon to his profession within the style. Just a few weeks out of quarantine he was already forging forward with new collaborations.
“After coming to Taiwan, I undoubtedly have extra creativity. I really feel much less stress and I really feel I can draw extra and make amends for misplaced time,” Lau mentioned. He’s discovering that Taiwan’s manga tradition is extra superior and built-in than Hong Kong’s. “Self-publishing …is a comparatively new growth in Hong Kong. However in Taiwan it has been round for a decade,” he mentioned.
He’s at the moment engaged on a e-book a few traumatic and formative childhood bullying incident throughout a yr in mainland China, in addition to pursuing different tasks, together with one with an area Taiwanese tattoo artist. A French publication of “A Fallen Metropolis” can be set for launch subsequent month.
However Kacey Wong’s self-exile to Taiwan hasn’t been as seamless. Hong Kong, the place, the politics and the tradition, is woven into the material of Wong’s best-known work: his satirical efficiency artwork throughout Hong Kong’s 2019 pro-democracy marches and the 2014 Umbrella Motion. Along with his base now situated outdoors the place that has been such a powerful affect on his artwork, Wong faces a difficult interval of inventive transition.
For an artist whose inventive work is so intently related to Hong Kong–he’s recognized for his satirical efficiency artwork throughout Hong Kong’s 2019 pro-democracy marches and the 2014 Umbrella Motion–exile in Taiwan include a heavy price ticket.
“I feel my artwork profession in that facet has been terminated, to be exact,” he advised HKFP. “I’ve been doing that type of efficiency artwork throughout protests for the previous decade… however now, the crackdown is in full scale, there’s no protests in Hong Kong. To not point out, it’s important to pay a brilliant heavy worth for these small actions.”
“So one needs to be extra inventive, in addition to adaptive. My transfer to Taiwan is strictly that. By pulling myself out of the crimson zone, I can proceed to advocate for many who are nonetheless in Hong Kong and can’t converse out,” he continued. “I think about one other Kacey Wong, who’s caught in Hong Kong now, and I think about, ‘What ought to I say with the intention to assist?’”
Wong plans to reinvent himself as a efficiency artist and evolve to mirror his new house,Taiwan–an island of various landscapes and nuanced layers of historic id.
“This is essential as a result of it’s associated to how I’m going to proceed to develop and study as a scholar of the humanities,” he mentioned.
Enthusiastic about his future inventive path performed an essential half in Wong’s alternative of the place to settle in Taiwan. “Taichung is in the course of the island, so to discover the attractive east facet, the cultural north facet, and the historically-grounded south facet, it’s all inside two to a few hours.”
He determined to return to Taiwan, quite than someplace within the West, as a result of he “seems like everybody else” right here and doesn’t really feel the necessity to “always show himself.” However even with the invisibility Hongkongers get pleasure from in Taiwan, Wong didn’t really feel instantly at house.
In actual fact, throughout his first days in Taichung, he felt a deep disconnect between himself and his environment. “This place was so international to me. I felt like I used to be in a dream. I appeared round, I appeared on the vehicles, the individuals passing by me… and I couldn’t imagine that I used to be right here, bodily.”
“After which I slowly realised I felt like that as a result of I wanted to anchor myself with the individuals and the place. So up to now month, I’ve been actively going out to say ‘Hello!’, opening up the map to memorise the names of the streets, take a look at the cash, the cash, and recognize every thing,” he mentioned.
Taiwan welcomes new artists
Hong Kong’s exile artists are, up to now, discovering new pals and a heat welcome from the native arts neighborhood. Galleries and Taiwanese artists have been smitten by Hong Kongers coming so as to add their abilities to the scene.
A spokesperson for the Taiwan Artwork Gallery Affiliation mentioned that the arrival of Hong Kong artists “will undoubtedly have a optimistic affect on a diversified growth of the visible arts business as an entire.”
“It seems like an amazing factor!” Taiwanese artist Ting-Ting Cheng mentioned. “I all the time imagine that the extra individuals within the artwork scene, the higher, so we will have extra various works, completely different opinions. I feel [the influx of Hong Kong artists] shall be nothing however optimistic.”
Will Taiwan develop into the popular place of exile for extra Hong Kong artists? Rather a lot relies on whether or not Taiwan relaxes its employment visa restrictions to permit much less well-known Hong Kong artists a chance to to migrate. Within the meantime, established artists like Lau and Wong are enthusiastic about discovering a brand new means ahead for his or her artwork careers in Taiwan’s freer inventive ambiance.
“Proper now, all people may be very a lot centered on escaping the Chinese language Communist Social gathering, however I feel one additionally has to consider what occurs after you efficiently escape,” Wong mentioned..
“What are you going to do within the subsequent 25 years, 50 years? That’s essential too.”