FIF spotlights Hong Kong’s paper cutting artists and craftspeople
By: Zaneta Cheng
December 29, 2023
This year’s First Initiative Foundation Gala put the spotlight on Hong Kong’s paper cutting artists and craftspeople. FIF managing director Amanda Cheung and artist Victor Wong speak with Zaneta Cheng about the importance of paper in the city’s heritage
When the city was closed, the First Initiative Foundation (FIF) brought the world to Hong Kong. Now that the Pearl of the Orient is back in business, FIF is showcasing the best of the city to the world. Such was the power of the lineup that the charity, founded by society doyenne Michelle Ong, brought together for this year’s gala dinner. The theme – “Paper Poems: An Ode to Hong Kong Heritage” – aims to, according to FIF managing director Amanda Cheung, “shed light on the intricacy of paper art, an integral part of Hong Kong’s rich legacy that resonates with people around the globe.”
FIF is known for its dedication to building arts culture in the city, particularly through its commitment to educational community-outreach programmes. The focus on paper art this year brings together “master artists like Victor Wong and Li Yun-Xia [who highlight] the traditional aspects of paper craftsmanship deeply rooted in Hong Kong’s cultural heritage through their art installations while modern paper artists like Nick Tsao and Stickyline showcase paper art in a more transformative manner that adds a futuristic aspect to this traditional art form,” says Cheung. “With this, we intended to not only strengthen the artistic bond between generations but also foster a profound sense of continuity and shared passion for our cultural heritage.”
For the gala dinner, cross-media artist Victor Wong created a colossal hanging installation titled The Rising Phoenix and Hundred Birds, which was illuminated by a combination of computer-controlled lighting, immersive projections and 25 hanging lanterns. Wong also incorporated AR into his setup so that guests could see a hundred birds soaring through the space via a smart-phone camera. The artist has his roots in paper art, helping his father’s traditional paper-bamboo craft shop when he was young. “For over 60 years, our shop held a special place in our community, cherished as a cultural gem of Hong Kong. It was during those formative years that I had the privilege of learning the intricate techniques of crafting heavenly goddesses and fairies using these delicate materials,” he recalls. “I’ve always believed that paper art is deeply tied to the heritage of Hong Kong. Being invited to participate in the FIF charity gala is an incredibly significant and exciting opportunity for me as an artist. The recognition my artistry has received fills me with a sense of pride and gratitude.
“Moreover, the opportunity to showcase my work to a wider audience at such a notable event is truly thrilling. It allows me to share my artistic vision, creativity and cultural heritage with a diverse and influential audience. I see it as a chance to inspire others, promote cultural understanding and contribute to a meaningful cause through my art.”
The theme of the night spoke to Wong, whose installation combined his visual production experience in film, which has won him countless local and international awards in both design and production, with his work in art technology and paper cutting. “The art installation was larger than life in size and it wasn’t something I could accomplish on my own. To overcome this, I reached out to some of my father’s friends who still operated workshops, albeit in China due to the high rent in Hong Kong,” Wong explains. “I created 3D diagrams of my designs as explanatory tools. After sketching my ideas on paper, I used a 3D programme typically used for digital movie scenes to construct a simulation of my design. Additionally, I created physical mockups of the lanterns to demonstrate their feasibility in real life.
“Over the course of two months with continuous communication with 10 craft masters, we successfully transformed my designs into remarkable 3D representations. I received compliments from the seasoned craft masters, expressing their admiration for the extraordinary design, including the master phoenix, the birds with their unique gestures, and the vibrant, multilayered flowers and clouds. They even said that our artistic collaboration had taken them on a remarkable journey. This collaborative endeavour allowed me to bring together traditional craftsmanship and modern technology, which resulted in a truly awe-inspiring and culturally significant artwork.”
While paper-cutting was certainly the visual focal point of the gala, FIF also celebrated Karen Mok, the charity’s newest Artist in Support, as well as Hins Cheung, an Arts and Culture Ambassador for FIF, whose musical talents in Hong Kong and Asia are well known. FIF also brought master chefs from all across Hong Kong to create “a degustation experience inspired by dishes that reflect their own hometowns and culture,” Cheung explains. “At FIF, one of our key missions is to serve as a unique platform for local talents, providing them with an opportunity to showcase their artistry to a wider audience, both locally and globally. Our gala event serves as the focal point for achieving this goal year after year. Through our collaborations from different industries, culinary arts, visual arts and music, FIF illuminates the exceptional skills of these local artisans.”
While the gala dinner might be done for this year, FIF has already lined up world-famous pianist Lang Lang this month as part of its ongoing FIF Masterclass program. The pianist has been an Artist in Support since the founding of the foundation and will be back in the city after 10 years to give a masterclass. As Cheung puts it, “We’re committed to #takethefirstinitiative as a growing force for philanthropy and cultural connection. What better way to unite people than through caring, sharing and uplifting one another?”