Kom Tong Hall was built in 1914 and is an integral part of Central’s history. It was once the home of Ho Kom-tong, the younger brother of businessman Sir Robert Ho-tung, and was subseqently owned by the Chang family and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. However, it’s now better known as the Dr Sun Yat-sen Museum, a venue that holds one of the new 'Hi! Houses' exhibitions organised by the Art Promotion Office.
Renowned local artist Wilson Shieh is behind the exhibition, which runs until June 30. Here, Shieh presents a new perspective on both Kom Tong Hall and the founding father of the Republic of China, Dr Sun Yat-sen himself. Having grown up in the Central area, Shieh used to pass by the hall every day on his way to the King’s College, where he attended secondary school. As a result, he has an intimate relationship with both the area and the hall, having visited the building and the museum on many occasions at different times in his life. Translating this relationship into artwork in the exhibition, Shieh has created a wonderful set of colourful decorative screens that tell the story of the various stages of Dr Sun Yat-sen’s life.
Shieh says: “Although many local people know the name of Dr Sun because of his status as a huge historical figure, people often feel quite distant from this figure.” This notion is something Shieh hopes to change through this exhibition. His artworks bring vibrant colours and eye-catching images to the museum, creating a sense of immediacy and accessibility to the great man’s history. Shieh points out that ‘most of the information [about Dr Sun Yat-sen] is in text or documents’. “It may be a little boring and difficult to digest,” he adds. But with these colourful pieces of art, says Shieh, he is bridging the gap between the ‘serious’ history behind this historical icon and the audiences who enjoy the exhibition at the museum. The information, according to Shieh, becomes much easier to digest in a rather friendly and vivid form, leaving a lasting impression on visitors' mind and vision.
With the help of four young artists, Shieh organises his exhibition chronologically into seven areas, each based on a place which refers to a time in Dr Sun Yat-sen’s life: ‘Guangdong in the late Qing Dynasty’, ‘Hawaii in the 19th century’, ‘Hong Kong during the Victorian era’, ‘Macau under Portuguese rule’, ‘Japan in the Meiji period’, ‘Southeast Asia during Dr Sun's years of exile’, and ‘Early Republic of China’. Shieh and his team create a series of distinctive artistic elements to represent these places following the traces of Dr Sun Yat-sen. Shieh uses historical motifs to produce paintings in the form of traditional Chinese screens, which are instantly recognisable. For example, the screen themed Victorian-era Hong Kong in the White Hall actually reveals Dr Sun Yat-sen's early life in Hong Kong in the 1880s and 90s, so this screen corresponds to the Victorian style of that age, particularly when it comes to its wallpaper with decorative floral patterns.
These works are both distinctive and eye-catching. Shieh is well known in Hong Kong for his unique artistic style of incorporating caricatures into his figurative drawings. This time, he uses them sparingly here as he focuses more on the different styles of the eras accordingly. Nevertheless, Shieh has created artworks that are both quirky and original, to tell one of the greatest stories about the most influential Chinese figure. So don’t miss out on your chance to experience this piece of Hong Kong’s history at one of our most engaging and historical museums.
Until Jun 30. Dr Sun Yat-sen Museum, 7 Castle Rd, Central; lcsd.gov.hk. Mon-Wed & Fri 10am-6pm, Sat-Sun 10am-7pm.