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In Pictures: Curator of ‘Prisoner of Conscience’ photo exhibition wants Hongkongers to remember jailed activists

A series of photographs at the Jockey Club Creative Arts Centre have transformed the space into a moving tribute to 16 political activists who were handed jail sentences in August for their involvement in two 2014 protests.

prisoner of conscience

Photo: Karen Cheung/HKFP.

Artists and photographers featured include Bobo Cheung, Bobby Sham, Carol Chow, Chan Dick, Chan Long-hei, Chun Yuen-lam, Cloud, Frank Yau, Jimmy Lam, John Choy, Wong Kan-tai, KC Kwan, Kenny Yung, Kwan Siu-wang, Ryann Chan, Simon Ng Yau-ching, South Ho, Tse Pak-chai and Vincent Yu.

The show is curated by Tai Ngai-lung, photographer and administrator of the popular Western District Facebook group, A Time of Change in Sai Wan.

prisoner of conscience exhibition

Northeast New Territories protester and An Id Signal vocalist Leung Wing-lai, by Jimmy Lam. Photo: Karen Cheung/HKFP.

Tai told HKFP that even though the jailings took place not long ago, Hongkongers appear to have already forgotten about them.

“They forget that people have been jailed and, even more so, the reason why they were jailed – namely, the northeast New Territories protests and the Civic Square clashes. They’ve also forgotten about the large-scale demonstration demanding that the political prisoners be released.”

prisoner of conscience exhibition

Photo: Karen Cheung/HKFP.

When a friend came up with the idea for the exhibition and approached him for help, Tai quickly agreed. There happened to be a vacancy for the venue at JCCAC, and Tai said the process of putting the show together was fairly smooth.

prisoner of conscience exhibition

Photographs featuring northeast New Territories protester Billy Chiu Hin-Chung.

“Given that there is the opportunity and space to put this exhibition together, I want to remind society not to forget [about the incident].”

political prisoner exhibition

Photographs featuring northeast New Territories Protester Sunny Leung. Photo: Karen Cheung/HKFP.

Tai also wanted to show support towards the families of the prisoners and the villagers affected by the controversial northeast New Territories development plans with the exhibition.

prisoner of conscience exhibition

Photo: Karen Cheung/HKFP.

Tai said he was saddened by the “injustice” of the jailings.

“It’s like what Nathan Law had said: they’re all good people. They didn’t do this [protest] because they were selfish and wanted to destroy society; they were doing it for justice, and the homes of the villagers. What did they do that was so serious they had to go to jail for it? I don’t see it.”

political prisoner exhibition

“Joshua 2.0” taken by Vincent Yu shortly after Wong was released on bail. Photo: Karen Cheung/HKFP.

The demonstrations took place in response to the legislature’s Finance Committee chair Ng Leung-sing forcing a vote on the HK$340 million funding plan for a development proposal in the area. The vote took place whilst pan-democrats were out of their seats, prompting outrage.

Tai said that he was very disappointed when the appeal court ruled as it did, because it “sends a message to society that, from now on, let us not do anything for others – all we should do is care about ourselves.”

“Growing up, I believed that the court was a place that would uphold justice – this feels very strange and unfamiliar to me.”

prisoner of conscience exhibition

Northeast New Territories protester Kole Chow Koot-yin, by Cloud. Photo: Karen Cheung/HKFP.

Tai added that the behaviour of the Department of Justice amounted to political oppression, and that – even before the court hands down its judgment – the activists were subjected to the hardship of undergoing court proceedings.

Although activists Joshua Wong, Nathan Law and Alex Chow – who were jailed over their involvement in the Civic Square clashes – were recently freed on bail pending appeal, Tai said that there were still 13 activists in prison, and that apart from these 16 protesters there are many more political prisoners in Hong Kong and China.

For Tai, the photo with the greatest significance is a shot by Tse Pak-chai which depicted the the protests on August 20, 2017, shortly after 16 activists were jailed.

prisoner of conscience exhibition

The August 20 demonstrations, by Tse Pak-chai. Photo: Karen Cheung/HKFP.

Rather than taking an artistic approach to photography, Tai said that the photo played the conventional role of documentation and told the story in a direct manner.

prisoner of conscience exhibition

Democracy activist Joshua wong, by Chan Long-hei. Photo: Karen Cheung/HKFP.

Tai and Tse also printed a series of other pictures from the demonstrations and hid them in different corners of the gallery.

“The set of photos are a reminder that we had once come out to voice our opposition, we didn’t just silently let the matter slide and, not only that, but a huge number of people took part.”

prisoner of conscience exhibition

“901” by Dick Chan. Photo: Karen Cheung/HKFP.

“901” by Dick Chan – named after the room number of disqualified lawmaker Nathan Law at the Legislative Council – depicts the bridge in Admiralty. It had once been the site of a sea of umbrellas during the Occupy movement.

While one of the tiny shots in the piece shows Law sitting on the road staring at the sky, all the others do not feature Law and are an indication of his absence. Law later responded on Facebook: “When I realised this, I was speechless, and cannot put into words how emotional I felt.”

prisoner of conscience exhibition

Northeast New Territories protester Willis Ho, by Cloud. Photo: Karen Cheung/HKFP.

The exhibition encouraged viewers to leave messages on sticky notes for the jailed activists, and post them onto the wall. “We will collect the notes and deliver them to the 13+3.” says Tai.

prisoner of conscience exhibition

Photographs featuring Demosisto member and northeast New Territories protester Ivan Lam Long-yin. Photo: Karen Cheung/HKFP.

Tai stressed that the northeast New Territories incident was not over, and there is a need for more people in society to demonstrate awareness and concern and to keep the momentum going. However, the court’s decision discourages them from assisting the villagers affected by the development plans.

prisoner of conscience exhibition

Tse Pak-chai, “Kitchens in North East.” Photo: Karen Cheung/HKFP.

One set of works featured in the L0 gallery is a set of six photographs by Tse Pak-chai called “Kitchens in North East.”

The photographs were featured in a 2013 art exhibition on life in northeast New Territories, and Tai placed the photos in the same location it occupied four years ago.

prisoner of conscience exhibition

Photographs showing northeast New Territories protester Keal Lau Kwok-leung. Photo: Karen Cheung/HKFP.

“In the end, art is inseparable from society, right?” says the exhibition statement on the wall.

prisoner of conscience exhibition

Portraits by artist Frank Yau. Photo: Karen Cheung/HKFP.

The 13+3 exhibition will be on view at Jockey Club Creative Arts Centre’s L0 and L1 gallery at Shek Kip Mei until November 20. 

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In Pictures: Curator of 'Prisoner of Conscience' photo exhibition wants Hongkongers to remember jailed activists