“Our Starry Sky” in Hong Kong’s Kennedy Town highlights talents and visibility of artists living with autism

If I were a star in the sky, I wish to take on the adventures of the universe. I would look small and unnoticeable, but I would be sparkling with all my might.” – Ip Wing Yan, The Jockey Club Hong Chi School

If I were a star in the sky, I would sit in a tiny floating pavilion with four white pillars and a pyramid roof, the fragrance of the pavilion spreading out into the darkness. I would play quiet music with a recorder all night for those who look up into the night sky.” – Kato Mami, Tokai, Japan

One of the most pleasant community amenities in the hip neighborhood of Kennedy Town is the recent Belcher Bay Promenade, which opened on October 2020. With a stunning sea view and spacious public space, this promenade carries immense potential for outdoor community events. I found the recent “Our Starry Sky” ceramics exhibition particularly meaningful, which runs from 23 October to 20 November. The exhibit is co-curated by Karpo Tang and Chris Lo.

Organized by St. James’ Creation (SJC) and supported by Hong Kong’s Harbourfront Commission, “Our Starry Sky” highlights the collaborative ceramic work between 15 local Hongkongers and 10 artists from abroad, each of whom offer their own unique style of pottery and design. SJC is an iconic charity in Hong Kong. Its mission is to provide a platform for people living with intellectual disabilities and on the autism spectrum disorder to create art. People on the autism spectrum often exhibit a striking creativity and yearning to express themselves. What is needed is a space tailored for them to grow in their talents and see art as a vocation that they can pursue without feeling hindered. What more limitless freedom, quite literally and poetically, is there than the open sky, the infinite night, and the cosmic grandeur of outer space?

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The 15 Hong Kong ceramicists were therefore invited by SJC to work with international artists to create pottery to touch the heart, with 3000 ceramic pieces on display on spheres in line with the outer space theme of the exhibit. While SJC has hosted work by ceramicists on the autism spectrum before, in downtown Wan Chai, this is the first time it has been joined by international counterparts. They include the veteran artist Tashima Seizo, who was shortlisted for the Hans Christian Andersen Award in 2020 among winning many others, UK-born Katherine Mahoney, who is based in Australia and makes a variety of stoneware, porcelain, wheel thrown pieces, and sculptural forms. All of them are notable, but I will mention only a couple more: US-based Hiep Cao Nguyen, facilitator for community, collaborative projects who focuses on people who might not consider themselves creative or lack access to art, and Sukanjana Kanjanabatr, a Thai ceramist and owner of Trampoline Studio who focuses on hand-made creations.

Furthermore, the railing of Belcher Bay Promenade is decorated with printed reflections of the Hongkonger and overseas artists, each one pondering on what they would do if they were stars shining among the endless sky. I found these a particularly welcome touch, providing viewers and passers-by alike a glimpse into the interior world of the artists.    

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Based on imaginative scenarios, the imagery of the stars represents glimmering hopes, while the expansive sky indicates an open heart and the freedom to soar wherever one wishes. One of the staff members of St. James’ Creation, St. James’ Settlement noted to me that apart from the idea of hope, the sky is also significant in that it appears differently to everyone. There are several sub-themes among this collection: for example, a lunar-themed collection that resembles the chiaroscuro of the moon’s pock-marked craters, or the set of ceramics displaying scenery and sights, animals, and other things of interest from Hong Kong as well as abroad, like Australia, Japan, Taiwan, and so on. The works encompassed a broad range of techniques, from 3D printing to stamping on clay to tracing and corralling. Many of the visual inspirations for the ceramic art came from online discussions between the Hong Kong-based ceramicists and their overseas counterparts.  

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“Shoot for the stars and you might land on the moon,” so the old saying goes. When viewed from a distance, the assembled works of these artists on Belcher’s Bay Promenade resemble a small solar system of lovingly made ceramics, a mini-constellation of reflections on hope and the human imagination. While progress has been made in recent decades to educate the public on mental disorders and autistic conditions, people often forget that it is not just about maintaining a decent quality of life. Most would agree that a good quality of life is desirable so that one is liberated to pursue one’s interests, to seek art, religion, and transcendent things beyond the everyday scramble to survive physically and financially. Indeed, to be able to enjoy art and create it is in many ways part and parcel of a quality life. I cannot think of a better way to spread awareness of our local ceramicists’ creativity than such an exhibition.

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Our Starry Sky (St. James’ Creation) 

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