Art galleries and museums are fine, but art should be done by creative young people and should be present in the public environment, says the super-creative Hong Kong artist. H.C. Lu reports
VISITORS WHO STEPPED into the Rockefeller Memorial Chapel in the US a few years ago got a surprise – there was a pair of giant quotation marks framing the main central “stage” of the venue. It added an interesting element to the words of anyone who spoke from that spot.
But why were the quotation marks there, and what was the message?
There is no single answer to that question. As with all successful works of art, the artist delivers a message, and the viewer takes away his or her own interpretation.
But one thing’s for sure – there’s a rich variety of messages available from the work of May Yeung, a Hong Kong artist who delivers her works with a wide variety of techniques and formats, from sculpture to photography.
US AND HONG KONG
Her work has been featured in several venues in the US and Hong Kong, and leans towards the offbeat. Her “Quotation Mark Series” also appeared at the Chicago Union Station and in Hong Kong.
But although she is only in her early 30s, she has set her sights on nurturing a sense of love of art with children and young people – with an aim of nourishing a spirit of positivity in Hong Kong’s community.
First, her background. She grew up in Hong Kong, and from the age of three, showed artistic talent. At the age of 13, Yeung joined Stanford University’s prestigious EPGY’s Talented Youth Program and she later left Hong Kong for studies in the US.
Having graduated from the University of Chicago in political science and visual arts, she did a variety of jobs, including being research assistant for an academic and an analyst at Goldman Sachs. But she always kept up her artistic ambitions and received the Max Palevsky Award, a prize for American design, in 2010.
Eventually she abandoned office work to become a post-modern pop-art sculptor and installation artist.
RETURN TO HONG KONG
From her return to Hong Kong in 2015, she has been devoted to the promotion of the arts. Her interest in social awareness and sustainability, especially among underprivileged children and youth, led her to establish a social enterprise, called Art of MY Family, in 2018.
She received the Hong Kong Top 10 Outstanding Artists Award in 2019. Local media reported that she suffered a bout of cancer that same year, which sent her back to square one as an artist, able only to work with pen and paper. But she recovered strongly, and now is working in multiple contexts—and is winning prizes again, such as the Hong Kong Youth Dream Makers Award in 2021.
LOVE OF NATURE
In an interview with Fridayeveryday, Yeung talked about where she gets inspiration and artistic ideas. “Nature plays a significant role of inspiration to my artistic creation,” she said. “In particular, Robert Smithson’s iconic land art ‘Spiral Jetty’ influenced me to explore the relationship between art and nature.”
Yeung said she feels connected with flowers which have healing power, as beloved Dutch tulips have been featured in a recent exhibition of sculpture she curated.
She still has an international connection, and likes to work with European consulates in Hong Kong, with her pieces appearing in Le French May and Dutch Days, two European-sponsored art festivals in the city. She curated a sculpture exhibition to promote sustainability for Dutch Days in the city recently.
Elements exhibited in Kornhill Plaza and Kornhill Apartments included three pieces that show her wide variety of skills.
First, there’s “Blossom Love Sculpture”, a wooden art piece you can sit inside (shown above). It symbolizes the Dutch spirit of overcoming the challenges of being a low-lying country next to the ocean, and features the country’s traditional flower, the tulip.
But May also added a butterfly to represent Hong Kong. “With 26% of land actually below sea level, the Netherlands prospers under effective water management and the use of renewable energy,” she said. “I specially combined Hong Kong’s Golden Birdwing butterfly into the art piece to really show the fact that both Hong Kong and the Netherlands hope to build sustainable cities.”
Second, there’s the “Hong Kong Coastline Photo Collection” – a series of professional photographs with artistic additions by young artists from the Hong Kong Design Institute.
Third, in “Journey of Hope Installation Art”, paper craft works were staged, using recycled material. In the workshops, Yeung made a leaf stamp of clay shaped like butterfly wings.
ART FOR THE MASSES
In her former role as the Corporate Social Responsibility Lead of a start-up, Yeung found that many children in Hong Kong do not have the opportunity of learning the arts. As such, Yeung decided to establish the Art of MY Family in 2018.
The social enterprise has now successfully connected more than 60 non-governmental organizations and corporate bodies to promote art accessibility and social inclusion in the community. Nearly 70 programmes were organized involving as many as 10,000 children and youth participants.
Last year, Yeung curated one of her large-scale interactive art installations, “Fill Central with Love”, which was supported by the Urban Renewal Authority and showcased at the Central Market. The event successfully aroused in interest in arts among participating young people and families.
In 2020, Yeung also curated the “Mizu” community arts exhibition as part of Japan Autumn Festival in Hong Kong. She led children and volunteers to upcycle seashells into a public art installation.
Inspired by oracle bone script, “Mizu” series is composed of recycled seashells and bamboo weaved basket.
“Our mission is really kind to promote art accessibility, environmental sustainability and social inclusion through community art programs,” Yeung said.
YOUTH ART SCHEME
A major focus for Yeung in the next decade will be the ArtSee Youth Artist Scheme, which has three project components, which are “Arts Experience Week,” “Mentorship Program” and “Reimagine Public Space”.
“Arts Experience Week” offers participants a series of educational workshops, artist studio visits, and panel discussions, which engage art practitioners and NGOs. “The Mentorship Program” provides participants with one-on-one interaction with artists, while “Reimagine Public Space” is an art-led regeneration program, which invites youth and professional artists to co-design arts for public space, such as parks and libraries. Therefore, young people and artists can work together to improve their environment.
With almost one in five members of Hong Kong’s population being children and youth, it is vital to incubate young talents, upkeep international competitiveness, and gain exposure through public art in the city, Yeung said.
“I really believe that the next generation is the hope of our future. As one of the few local sculptors in Hong Kong, I really hope to create positive community impact through artwork and art programs, and actually transform the landscape of Hong Kong through public art as well,” she said.
Learn more about Yeung’s well-known artworks and Art of MY Family programs on her Facebook M.Y. Sculpture: www.facebook.com/myeungsculpture
Image at the top from May Yeung.