In an exploration of human rights, this Hong Kong artist puts paint to canvas to express the dichotomy of freedom. What does it mean to really be free?
Hong Kong is my home and, as the world knows, it is in political turmoil. As it’s a subject so close to home, both metaphorically and physically, I have struggled to be able to find the right words – until now.
the condition or right of being able or allowed to do, say, think, etc. whatever you want to, without being controlled or limited.
[definition from the Cambridge Dictionary]
Being free, feeling free, what are the expectations of freedom, is it truly achievable? Can we even agree that it’s real?
Freedom can come at a cost, requiring courage and persistence – often in the face of violent resistance – to reach the unknown. Women have fought for the right to vote, the LGBTQ+ community has fought for the right to marry their chosen partner, Hong Kong is currently fighting for the survival of its own identity. The fight has a cost, but the reward is freedom – freedom of expression, freedom to love, freedom to exist.
At the same time, freedom itself is subjective, its meaning changing based on the experiences of the individual, or group. In Hong Kong’s case, residents share many restrictions on personal freedoms; no marriage equality, great financial burdens, fear over political expression, no universal suffrage… to name a few. Many of the challenges made all too apparent by the recent anti-extradition protests. Hong Kong’s people, especially its youth, are concerned that freedoms are slowly being eroded by the government. For example, just last week Carrie Lam enacted an emergency ban on face masks, provoking a bigger reaction, of course.
For now, freedom of speech is a fundamental right in Hong Kong SAR (aka, Special Administration Region) and residents legally have the right to protest. This is not the case in mainland China – Hong Kong’s overlord and the source of the fear behind the current protest. All media is censored, the internet is monitored, its people are exposed to state propaganda and doctored historical accounts. Citizens are deprived of the right to read or watch what they want with impunity. On the other end of the spectrum, free, democratic, Western societies are trading their freedom of speech for a slice of China’s deep pockets and global economic power.
Take a minute to imagine the person you would most describe as free… In actuality, that person might still feel confined by their job, their relationships, their debts, or even their own lack of confidence. Which begs the question: is anyone truly free? Which freedoms should be universal and which ones can we ignore? Or should we ignore any?
Drawing on inspiration from the intimidating beauty of Chile’s Cavernas de Mármol, (Marble Caves), this artwork explores freedom in its many forms; from the constraints that limit true liberation to the erosion of freedoms already in existence.
What is freedom to you? Is anyone really free and what is its price?
Acrylic on canvas
36” x 36” (91.5cm x 91.5cm)