Then We Keep Living

Chris Siu

About the exhibition

Then We Keep Living introduces a curated suite of 11 photographs drawn from my ongoing project of the same title – a two-tired photographic narrative on Hong Kong from my position as both an insider and a part of the diasporic drift. 

From the complexities of political dilemmas to the raw discovery of self, these works offer a poignant reflection on the experiences of civil unrest and its enduring repercussions. In an era marked by socio-political upheavals worldwide, this project seeks to contribute to the ongoing dialogue on these crucial issues, highlighting the universal significance of individual narratives within the collective struggle for freedom and human rights.

Catalogue essay

A fragment of a ripped poster stuck to a dirty window, through which the blurred skyscrapers are hazily glimpsed.  This image of erasure is also a ghost vision conjuring up what can no longer be seen, words that the Hong Kong government judges so dangerous that it is trying to outlaw them.  That torn poster scrap in Untitled is instantly recognizable to Hong Kongers as the most popular 2019 protest slogan: “光復香港,時代革命,  Liberate Hong Kong, Revolution of our Times!”  Those words were yelled and sung by hundreds of thousands of people, hoisted on banners and scrawled on walls, as they demonstrated to protect Hong Kong’s freedoms.

That slogan became illegal after the imposition of National Security Legislation in June 2020.   The very next day, ten protestors were arrested on national security offences; one had a Revolution of Our Times sticker on his cellphone.   So this scrap of a poster reminds Hong Kongers of a time when those words were ubiquitous.  Even the smudged whorls on the hastily-cleaned window hold meaning; they’re all that is left of the protest slogans once daubed on every surface of the city.  For Hong Kongers, that exhilarating period of political hope and solidarity has now been reduced to a few shreds of paper on a smudged window.

The ongoing political suppression that followed the protests has been intense and unrelenting.  Forty-seven activists including some of those carrying the banner in Protest in Wan Chai are standing trial for subversion.   Their offence, for which they face lengthy sentences, was holding a primary poll to decide which candidates to field at election.  The city’s once unruly legislature has been remade into a ‘patriots-only’ body of pro-government politicians, books have been removed from library shelves, and textbooks rewritten with a national security focus.  Civil society is being dismantled from within as trade unions and political parties disband and media outlets close down for their own safety.  Hong Kong is being unmade, and remade into a new city.

This has led to an exodus, with census data indicating almost 150,000 residents have left since 2019.   This bleak reality is portrayed in Day Before Leaving, whose bare room signifies the lifeblood draining from the city as its inhabitants move overseas.  That emptiness is echoed in Volume 2’s monochromatic depiction of life outside Hong Kong.   For Hong Kong’s involuntary exiles, Freedom has come at a great cost.  After the high stakes struggle for their city, diasporic life seems leached of colour and purpose.

That torn poster does not just symbolize erasure, it also encompasses the promise of resistance.  No matter what action Hong Kong’s authorities take to expunge evidence of the protests, they can never efface all reminders.  Hong Kongers do not see the cleaner’s careless swirls, they see the words that were removed.  They do not see empty playgrounds, they remember the urgent crowds that once filled them.  Chris Siu’s ghost images, when decoded through Hong Kong eyes, are also visions of hope.  Hong Kongers will keep living, and remembering, no matter where they are in the world.

Louisa Lim, author of Indelible City; Dispossession and Defiance in Hong Kong

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Meet the artists & curators

Chris Siu (b.2001) is a Hong Kong born photographer, currently living and studying on unceded Kaurna Country in Tarntanya Adelaide, South Australia. Informed by documentary conventions, his work investigates and chronicles the intricate relationships that lie within his surrounding social landscapes. Chris’s practice is informed by the flux of socio-political happenings in his homeland Hong Kong and his ever-changing place within it. Through exploring notions of layered histories and geopolitics, Chris’s work seeks to offer a reflection on personal and communal experience, pivoting around representations of civil unrest, diasporic experience, cultural displacement and marginality within contemporary existence. Chris works primarily in medium format analogue photography. He is drawn to this photographic process because it is produced and cared for entirely by hand; from capturing and developing, to printing and digitising the analogue images. His ongoing project, ‘Then We Keep Living,’ was selected for Helpmann Academy’s cross-institutional graduate exhibition and Hatched: National Graduate Show at the Perth Institute of Contemporary Art in 2023.

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