“Nàng Tự Do” Exhibition The Archive of “Art In the Camps” Recaptures the Life of Vietnamese Boatpeople in Hong Kong
Co-organised by the Department of Fine Arts, The Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK) Library and Garden Streams, the exhibition “Nàng Tự Do - The archive of Art In the Camps (Garden Streams) and the traces of Vietnamese boatpeople in Hong Kong” features the life of Vietnamese boatpeople in the detention camps in Hong Kong in the 1980s and 1990s and will be held at the CUHK Main Library from 21 October 2020 to 16 April 2021. The collections include a number of detailed photographs taken in the camps, which have never been displayed. The exhibition aims to discuss the relationship between “refugees” and contemporary society by reviewing this unique piece of almost forgotten history. It will be open to the public free-of-charge.
“Nàng Tự Do” means “Miss Freedom” in English. The title of the exhibition is drawn from Tự Do (Freedom Magazine), a magazine that was published by the boatpeople in the camps for their community at that time. As the magazine is written in Vietnamese, it has never been heard of by people outside the camps. From the 1980s, Hong Kong society became gradually more annoyed by the refugee waves, renaming the Vietnamese as “boatpeople” instead of “refugees”, suggesting that they were poor and lacking education. In fact, the definition of refugees is wide. As well as wars, natural disasters and economics may also be reasons for people to become refugees. This exhibition displays the archive of Art In the Camps (Garden Streams) from a contemporary point of view, instead of presenting the works as stereotypical views of the Vietnamese boatpeople’s identity, and reveals the life they led in Hong Kong.
Several artists from Garden Streams created a project called Art In the Camps in 1988. The project aimed to bring art into the detention camps, which involved painting with residents in the camps, and documenting their life with photographs. The archive of Art In the Camps officially became a permanent collection as part of the Special Collection of CUHK Library in 2019. The upcoming exhibition will display nearly 50 paintings from the archive, thematically arranged into five categories, namely “body”, “fences”, “imaginary landscape”, “art pedagogy with children” and “women’s embroidery works”. A dozen photographs taken in the detention camps and which have never been displayed will also be included in this exhibition, along with some specific newspaper clippings and other related documents about this piece of history.
One of the key figures of Art In the Camps, Dr. Evelyna Liang said, “Every time I look at these paintings, they remind me of those friends whom I made inside the camps. For me, these are more than paintings. To this day, I still keep in touch with some of the boatpeople. Recently, I have contacted some European refugees, hoping to give full play to art in people.”
In addition, four contemporary artists have been invited to react to the archive by creating art works. Law Yuk-mui from Hong Kong will look at this history from the perspective of her own family story. Law has also interviewed a man who grew up in the Whitehead detention camp. Vicky Do, a Vietnam-born artist who graduated from the School of Creative Media, City University of Hong Kong, has been commissioned by this exhibition to review Tự Do (Freedom Magazine) from a contemporary Vietnamese perspective. For the first time ever, the public will get to read parts of the magazine in both English and Chinese. Will Pham, a British-born Vietnamese artist, weaves his family history with different visual fragments of the entire history of Vietnamese refugees using video. Les Bird, a former member of Marine Police in Hong Kong, will be showing his private photo collection between the 1970s and 1980s for the first time, including a Polaroid image taken in the very moment that a batch of Vietnamese refugees first landed on Tai Ah Chau.
Mr. Leung Ho Yin, Part-time Instructor of the Department of Fine Arts, CUHK and curator of the exhibition said, “Refugee seems to be a far-away concept. Yet, it is actually very close to us. Having this exhibition is to remind us that history is always repeating itself. There were Vietnamese boatpeople yesterday and there is a refugee crisis in Europe today. Anyone could, all of a sudden, become a refugee without even knowing about it.”
To give the audience a deeper understanding of Vietnamese boatpeople’s life in Hong Kong, a series of public programmes including online talks, workshops and a field trip will be organized throughout the exhibition period. In all this, former artists from Art In the Camps will be telling of their working experience in detention camps and showing their art works. Corina Hoang, a former boat person who has become a scholar today, will show her research on the history of refugees from Vietnam. Also, Les Bird will lead a guided tour to Tai Ah Chau, where he first met the boatpeople and will retrace his memories.
Details of exhibition “Nàng Tự Do - The archive of Art In the Camps (Garden Streams) and the traces of Vietnamese boatpeople in Hong Kong” are as follows:
21 October 2020 - 16 April 2021
Exhibition Area, G/F, CUHK Main Library
Mondays to Friday: 8:20 a.m. -10 p.m.
In response to the current pandemic, the public is required to provide identification documents for simple registration when entering the campus. Wearing a mask is required.
About Art In the Camps
During the Vietnam War in 1975, a large number of Vietnamese refugees fled to different parts of the world. In the history of the “refugee wave” that lasted more than two decades, Hong Kong hosted more than 200,000 Vietnamese refugees. Refugees who crossed the “Furious Sea” and arrived Hong Kong were placed in detention camps from the mid-1980s. Several artists from Garden Streams created a project called Art In the Camps in 1988. The project aimed to bring art into the detention camps, which involved painting with adults and children in the camps and documenting their life with photographs. The archive of Art In the Camps has been sent to the Netherlands since its last appearance in Hong Kong in 2008. In 2019, the archive officially became a permanent collection as part of the Special Collection of CUHK Library.