Hong Kong Art Gallery with a Social Mission

To the world, Hong Kong’s laser-lit skyline and contemporary skyscrapers denote a modern metropolis and global financial center that is often tagged “Gotham City.” Recall how Batman flew from one of its soaring towers to another in a recent movie.

But few, foreigners or locals alike, relate this small city-state to its vast, sprawling and beautiful country parks, which have long captivated outdoor enthusiasts, hikers and photographers. However, the peril to the parks was brought to the fore recently with debates on whether portions of its country parks should give way to urbanization to ease housing shortages.

To promote public awareness of the beauty and the need to preserve this other part of Hong Kong, Gallery With A Heart by Project Artist X (PAX) chose a photographic exhibition Wild Scrutiny (by Hillman, who goes by one name) for its inaugural show. The message is clear: Explore Hong Kong’s countryside before taking a stand in these debates.

The collections by local photographer and hiking enthusiast Hillman display dreamy, surreal images which for the most part look like fantasies – and tingle a childlike imagination and love for the countryside – but yet they are so real and accessible one is quietly taken back to reality with an embarrassing question: Is that really Hong Kong?

The centerpiece, “The Lion Spirit,” displayed in the chic and aesthetically designed art gallery, opened recently by Julia Ip, displays carefully layered pale hues slouching over a horizon of mountains under a scorching sun that fools the eye: That can’t be Hong Kong? That’s not an oil painting?

Indeed, upon close examination of the portrait, one can make out the faint, minute details of the city yawning quietly away when Hillman snapped this picturesque scene during the first dawn of the year after spending a night in waiting on top of Tai Mo Shan, Hong Kong’s highest peak.

Another piece taken atop of Sunset Peak, shot appropriately during sunset, depicts a rare perspective of Hong Kong, not so much for the sight of the linear divide between Hong Kong and Kowloon with the respective landmarks of IFC and ICC buildings on each side, or the random litter of vessels over the misty backdrop of the harbor, but notably for the historic huts known as Lantau Camps among the local hiking community. A less-discerning pair of eyes would promptly conclude this to be the result of a cut-and-paste attempt, putting part of ancient Hong Kong alongside its modern backdrop.

PAX intends to extol this overlooked beauty of Hong Kong with the “Art is in the Air” project accompanying the debut exhibition. Proceeds from the sales of Wild Scrutiny exhibits will go into the project initiated by PAX to promote public appreciation and respect for nature via an online art journal to be launched in the second half of the year.

Together with Hillman, PAX asks the public to donate used digital cameras so more people from all walks of life can make contributions to this journal, which aims to cultivate an interest in both photography and exploring nature, which Hong Kong still has a lot to offer.

Local veteran investment banker Julia Ip, who has spent over a decade and a half with top tier American and European merchant banks and yearned for new challenges, founded PAX last year to work with a group of art enthusiasts in Hong Kong who believe art can make a difference with a wide array of benefits for the society. Ip plans to use art as a medium to facilitate, with PAX, the development of a caring and inclusive culture in Hong Kong. PAX also supports the nurturing of artistic development by encouraging artists to share their skill and passion for art through its various community programs – each of PAX exhibitions are to be accompanied by a community-oriented project, as is “Art is in the Air” with Wild Scrutiny.

The Wild Scrutiny exhibition is scheduled to last till the end of April at Gallery With A Heart by PAX, located at Ap Lei Chau on the southern side of Hong Kong, meticulously designed with the Pingyao style of the Ming and Qing dynasties in mind, which makes the visit a joy to savor along with the exhibits.