top of page

Solidarity as Method: Hong Kong visual culture and its diaspora

2 December 2022 at 4:30:00 am

Convert to local time with

Session Convenors

Nikki Lam, RMIT University

Session Speakers

Kelly Chan, RMIT University
Dr Louisa Lim, University of Melbourne
Nikki Lam, RMIT University

This panel investigates the multiplicity of Hong Kong’s evolving visual culture during the city’s transformative years since the 2014 Umbrella Movement—one of the first large-scale social movements since the 1997 Handover. While Hong Kong cultural theorist Akbar Abbas describes Hong Kong as a ‘culture of disappearance’ (Abbas 1997), this panel argues that the city’s post-colonial social movements have led to a re-emergence of Hong Kong culture through activism, cinema and public art. With waves of emigration and ongoing socio-political shifts within the city, it has become a pivotal point for Hong Kongers as they collectively re-shape their identity through solidarity from afar and within.

This panel brings together distinctive research from three Melbourne-based Hong Kong researchers: Nikki Lam (RMIT, Artist-curator), Kelly Chan (RMIT, Visual ethnographer) and Louisa Lim (University of Melbourne, Journalist and academic), each presenting new methods of investigating Hong Kong visual culture and perspectives on Hong Kong collectivity around the world. From Hong Kong artist-activists and diaspora contemporary art, the panel will discuss how artists have responded to the ripples of socio-political change in the last decade. Together they will explore the unique historical and cultural propositions of Hong Kong through its political struggles and the emergence of a new Hong Kong subjectivity via dispersed publics.

City of Tears: a visual (auto)ethnographic study of Hong Kong

Kelly Chan, RMIT University

From the 2014 Umbrella movement to the 2019 Anti-Extradition Law Amendment Bill movement, Hong Kongers and artist-activists have utilised public spaces to demonstrate novel ways to create activist, experimental and demonstrative transformations. However, the national security law imposed in mid-2020 and the ongoing exodus from Hong Kong present growing fears and uncertainty for the city's future. Undertaken during the pandemic and political unrest in Hong Kong, this visual ethnography explores recent creative and collective responses to this erosion of freedoms and other fundamental civil liberties through the perspectives of six Hong Kong artist-activists.

As a Hong Kong-born and trained artist and educator, I undertake this study of my home city while removed from it. The ethnography is presented alongside autoethnographic reflections on disruptive historical events amid the pandemic. These events exposed deep-rooted issues of post-coloniality before decolonisation and surfaced conflicting ideologies that further divided many cities. The presentation draws attention to my reflections on doing ethnographic work during multiple crises, and I make a case for a renewed consideration of the shifting role of activists, artists and researchers.

Protest Art, the Public Sphere and the King of Kowloon

Dr Louisa Lim, University of Melbourne

This presentation will address the ways in which protestors in Hong Kong created their own public sphere through art to express the complex political, linguistic and cultural identity of being a Heung Gong Yan (Hong Konger). During both the 2014 and 2019 movements, protestors created textual walls of grievance known as Lennon Walls expressing views about Hong Kong’s sovereignty and identity which could not be published in the mainstream media. In doing so, they were emulating the methods of an iconic figure known as the King of Kowloon, who covered the walls of the city with an estimated 55,000 works of political graffiti for half a century, before becoming the territory’s most valuable artist. The 2019 Lennon Walls moved into the diaspora and into cyberspace, before being shut down following the dramatic narrowing of the public sphere, following National Security legislation imposed in June 2020 squarely targeted at curtailing this burgeoning Hong Kong identity and its highly expressive discourse.

Politics of Memory from Afar: the diasporic tensions

Nikki Lam, RMIT University

In this paper, artist-curator Nikki Lam will examine the creative tensions in Hong Kong diasporic filmmaking under evershifting political conditions. Examining both contemporary moving image art and cinema, this paper will focus on works by Hong Kong diasporic artists and filmmakers whose practices encompass stories of migration, translations and disjointed histories as ways to reckon with the political and cultural disjunctures in the city. While a diasporic position often falls into a position that is defined clearly within the hegemonic structures of the West (Ang 2001), Lam argues that it is possible to anchor research on a unique cultural subjectivity for the expanding Hong Kong diaspora. This paper will draw focus on the creative tensions emerged since 2019—the same threads that connected the global Hong Kong communities through solidarity. As a moving image artist herself, Lam will explore the shifting ethical positions of the artist from afar and examine the politics of memory, cultural proximity, and the emergence of a collective response against the disappearance of Hong Kong.



Nikki Hiu Tung Lam, RMIT University 

Nikki Hiu Tung Lam is an artist-curator based in Narrm. Working primarily with moving images, her work explores hybridity and memory through the contemplation on time, space and impermanence. Born in Hong Kong, her current research focuses on the artistic agency during cultural, social and political transitions, particularly within screen cultures. With an expanded practice in writing and festival making, Nikki is currently co-director of Hyphenated Projects and Hyphenated Biennial. Nikki is currently undertaking a PhD (Art) at RMIT University. 

Kelly Ka-Lai Chan, RMIT University 

Kelly Ka-Lai Chan is a video ethnographer and educator. Kelly was a lecturer at Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts & Hong Kong Art School before joining RMIT School of Education for her PhD study on using visual methods to explore subjectivities of artist-activists in Hong Kong. Kelly’s research interests traverse art, activism, displacement and social justice. 

Dr Louisa Lim, University of Melbourne 

Dr Louisa Lim is the author of Indelible City: Dispossession and Defiance in Hong Kong (2022) and The People’s Republic of Amnesia: Tiananmen Revisited (2014), which was shortlisted for the Orwell Prize and the Helen Bernstein Book Award for Excellence in Journalism. She covered China and Hong Kong for a decade as a correspondent for the BBC and NPR, and has reported for the New York Times, Washington Post and Guardian. Raised in Hong Kong, she lives in Australia with her two children and teaches at the University of Melbourne. She received her PhD (Journalism Studies) from Monash University in 2021.

bottom of page