This is my third curatorial try at the children’s exhibition, an annual event at the Ox Warehouse. Many people asked, “Why do you curate it? Because you have been a teacher before? ” Well, if I replied, “Just because the chance arose”, does it sound?
In fact, I never thought I would curate an exhibition by and for children, but this curatorship, besides helping to extend the annual Children’s Art Playground programme, has prompted me into profound reflection as I looked back at my own schooling and childhood experiences.
We should teach students in accordance with their aptitudes, with flexibility, rather than formulaic and spoon-fed schooling. I didn’t enjoy my childhood, and I didn’t enjoy schooling. Only in university I realized there are subjects requiring no memorizing at all and only then did I enjoy studying. Elementary education is important, and only an education system stimulating students’ thinking and imagination, coaching them to enjoy learning can be considered successful. As a student, I memorized textbooks only to pass exams, then forgetting everything, and I hated it. Shall we call this education?
I used this children’s art exhibition featuring creative families to vent my discontent with the current education system. Knowing well that it’s difficult to change the situation, I just tried to showcase a few special examples by my friends﹣though not really the best examples﹣of families where the parents are teaching/influencing their child through personal example, in everyday interactions.
We have Cowrice, a creative family from Hong Kong, formed by Philip Lau, the father, Grace Kwok, the mother, and Ying Ying, the daughter. I got to know them better through their Facebook pages showing calligraphy and ink paintings by Ying Ying, on sketchbook, on paper or on different media, besides bags and shoes the parents made for her. Originally, Cowrice was a two-member group, consisted of Philip and Grace; the arrival of Ying Ying has changed the way the couple see the world, as well themselves, urging them to look at it through her innocent eyes. “My daughter learns survival skills from her dad’s life experience, and dad comes to realize, through her eyes, how experience stands in the way when we try to perceive the world”, said Philip in a FB post. In this exhibition, the family tries to reveal all their fantasies about their abode in Sha Tin, Hong Kong.
Billie Ng is my friend from Hong Kong and also a cat lover. She has four cats and a child. Before having the son, her cat Blue gained great exposure on the media, and she even published a book dedicated to him, entitled The Cat in Red Boots. With her new baby, I saw she breast-feeding him, bringing him to work﹣without any major changes in her life. Instead, with a toddler around she tries to share more moments with friends. It’s worth mentioning that Hong Kong has an education system even worse than Macao’s, including regional standard examinations at Form 5 that drive most youngsters mad. Every school should have its own characteristics, and every child is different. Standard examinations are inhuman, just a convenience of the system. That said, for Billie, schooling is not the most important; what matters is, parents should broaden their vision, in order not to let Hong Kong’s cannibalistic education system devour their children.
For this exhibition, Billie, who’s also a handicrafter, presents an embroidery work dealing with “Name Giving”. She illustrates the meaning behind a selection of Chinese given names, hoping to spur visitors to revisit the Chinese name giving tradition and pass it on.
Now let’s look at Daxiang Lin. At first I knew her as Lin Hsiang Chun, then she became Lin Hsiang Chun. Lin stands out in a crowd, for her unusual height and because she speaks Mandarin. I could never catch her explanation as to why she called herself Daxiang Lin or Lin Hsiang Chun﹣she speaks damn fast! After giving birth to a son, she published more articles and poems, many of which obviously themed on children. A child’s arrival always brings changes to parents, physically (such as ageing and putting on weight) and mentally (sparking different worldviews). Lin raises her son Bear in a sort of a free-range way, exposing him to nature as well as to people. On the other hand, Bear inspired her to care for the environment and animals. And she and her husband also bring along Bear to visit exhibitions. The family shares the life, interacting with their common friends. For the exhibition, they showcase some collected items, including stones, bird’s nests, and beehives, as well as pine nuts, avocado, leaves, alongside cicadas and toy cars, creating a fun show.
My first real personal contact with Dora Lou was at last year’s children’s exhibition despite that we were actually studying in the same graphic design department, and that I liked her graduation work Worldly Aesthetics. Dora is carefree, and bold in her tryings. Her new baby girl makes her more motherly, and she started caring more about the world, the community and other children. At first she wanted to contribute to the exhibition with her family. But then she changed her mind: working at the Best Buddies Macao Association, with the duty to establish friendship between the mentally disabled and Macao community, she opted to lead the little Best Buddies paint, producing nice works. These children paint like others, and indulge in their wild imagination, playing to full creativity. They show the original, sheer human purity in them, demonstrating their candideness and innocence. In a word, there’s no difference between them and us; the only difference is whether the heart is empty or not.
Ox Warehouse offers regular children’s art courses, and organizes an annual exhibition by and for children. This year we made some changes, by exhibiting works by children, as well as interactive works between them and adults. Contrary to my belief that every individual should create by him/herself, the event asks adults to re-create children’s drawing with the media they are good at. Unlike adults whose imagination is curtailed by senses/rationality, kids are more creative, their world being freer. However, if children are not guided and encouraged properly during their early development, they tend to give up painting therefore being unable to turn the original creativity into a thoughtful series of work.
I hope parents, teachers and all other adults can perceive, through children, the ability we were born with. The world in itself is pure, simple. Why make it complex? The Parent-child Workshop on Puppet Making Inspired by Children’s Drawing, hosted by Yolanda Kog, teaches participants to make puppets based on children’s drawing. Yolanda has been hand-making animal puppets for a while but this time follows the children’s lead and puts aside previously mastered concepts like proportion, colours and shapes, designing the course to guide adults in puppet making prior to the exhibition opening. She also assisted the curator, keeping herself busy at Ox Warehouse for three months, since curating is not only about creating, but also controlling costs and encouraging interaction with visitors, which means to consider many more things besides pure creative efforts. Now we all can cuddle or play with nearly 100 puppets of different sizes, demonstrating that art is not just for watching but also for touching, as art is intimate to man, and indeed there’s no boundary at all between people and art.
U Sio Seong, a schoolmate from middle school, has been my friend for two decades. A former art teacher, with a son, she later switched to be a pastry chef while teaching painting part-time. Thinking that a children’s exhibition should be a venue for visiting and fun, we designed a multifunctional area for play, leisure and hosting workshops, as kids do not really need toys, but rather a playground to run, jump, read and paint. Seong also designed a slide, on which little ones can slide or climb, with big cushions made by Yolanda, tables and chairs around, functioning as a resting are. She also her displays roly-poly dolls inspired by children’s drawing. Please be reminded to embrace the dolls lightly, so as not to cause them pain.
Aquino da Silva excels at sketching and his painting is more real than life but upon seeing children’s simple strokes, he decided on his creative approach (for this exhibition). Being also an apt carpenter, he opted to render the outlines with thick steel wires, enlarging them considerably for display.
Lam Ut Ngo, instructor of children’s art course, shares the same concept but with a twist: she places small installations made from iron wires around the children’s room. Complexity and forcible orderliness is an adult’s game, whereas children have the innate ability to accomplish a drawing with a few strokes. However, in art, the essential is, as Picasso once said, “It took me a lifetime to paint like a child”. As grownups, we work hard to earn money, then squander it on housing, material enjoyment, or luxury travel. Yet, at the end of the day, do we truly know what we really want?
The exhibition venue, originally planned to give a harmonious, uniform atmosphere by showing artworks in similar moods, now looks not so harmoniou after Summer Ieong Kun Ieng’s interference. Upon knowing the exhibition concept, Summer, as children’s art teacher and inspired by the intense interest her pupils showed in paper folding, had the idea of producing a kaleidoscope through which viewers can see a colourful, wondrous world. She likes to come up with new ideas and try new things. This kind of person is very much needed here. Who says uniformity is good? The Ox Warehouse exhibition hall, a big open space, is usually separated by recyclable wood panels during exhibitions. But the previous exhibition featured graffiti directly drawn on the walls, without any panels. This time, we re-used them to divide the space into different ‘rooms’, and the result is a venue with great ambience quite matching this exhibition, with two rooms keeping the graffiti works on the walls and corridor. In conclusion, I’m a grownup with stubborn worldly concerns, but I’m glad to be able to do something different in this exhibition.
Cora Si Wun Cheng