Wei Leng Tay - The Other Shore

Wei Leng Tay

Working predominantly with photography, sound and video, Wei Leng Tay’s practice considers how socio-economics, history, family and the state intersect with memory and notions of displacement and self-identity. She has collaborated and exhibited with institutions and organisations such as the Australian National University CIW Gallery, National University of Singapore (NUS) Museum, Vasl Artists’ Collective, Pakistan, Fukuoka Asian Art Museum, and ARTER Space for Art, Istanbul. Tay has been a recipient of awards such as the Poynter Fellowship through Yale School of Art and the National Arts Council Singapore’s Art Creation Fund. Her work forms part of public and private collections including those of the National University of Singapore (NUS) Museum; National Taiwan Museum of Fine Art; Fukuoka Asian Art Museum, Japan; Heritage Museum, Hong Kong, and Kiyosato Museum of Photographic Arts, Japan.

Wei Leng Tay
Project Statement

The Other Shore

Young Mainland Chinese have been migrating to Hong Kong from across China, leaving their homes because of family business, or in search of better education and career prospects. They find themselves in majority Chinese yet increasingly tense environments, often confronting entrenched ideas regarding ‘Mainlanders’. Working with young professional or student Mainland Chinese in their twenties and early thirties who are reflective of the surge in this particular immigrant demographic in the last decade, through interactions that culminate in audio interviews and photography, Tay sought to move beyond the stereotypical binary of Hong Kong versus China.

Beginning with her own identity as a migrant in Hong Kong, Tay asks of how these movements affect how one conceives of one self – how national and family histories and narratives converge with one’s memory, how everyday relationships affect us, how contemporary conditions, be they social, economic or political, create a discordant interiority, and how all these shape us. The imagery and audio text are presented unlinked, in layers that create different contexts for looking and listening, and in this way consider the mutability of these identities in transition that underlie the complex relationship between Hong Kong and China.

Excerpts of voices in project:

(Translated from Cantonese) …after they have been here for long enough, they forget. In my opinion, I feel my uncle has forgotten, my mum too. So then they take an entirely different position from Mainland Chinese on everything, and this adds to the sense of distance Hong Kong feels from China. Even people who were previously intimately tied to China will think they are different from Mainland Chinese, assuming ‘I am not the same as them’—as if they are watching the fire from the other shore…

You could say, the city has returned, but the heart has not.

(Translated from Mandarin) …it’s that they don’t really understand China. They don’t understand the level of vision and aptitude of our generation, which has undergone brainwashing but for whom it hasn’t worked. There isn’t enough interaction between us. Because of this, the two-way discrimination, added to the government’s own stupid on so many policies, there are fewer and fewer chances for interaction and understanding. If this is the case, then there isn’t much point in me staying here. When I came to Hong Kong, my goal was to become a global citizen. But I now realize that I’ve still ended up being a so-called citizen of the People’s Republic of China anyway…

(Translated from Cantonese) …I used to wonder—what am I doing here… What kind of person am I when I’m here in Hong Kong. All the interactions one has with the city—work, entertainment, friends, I had none of that. Besides having mum here, I lived like a solitary island. Back then, I struggled more with these issues, wondering whether I wanted to return to Hong Kong in the future. But later, perhaps as I grew up, I felt … it doesn’t really matter if I assimilate. As long as you have your own life, it’s fine; you don’t have to force yourself to become a “normal” Hong Konger…

(Translated from Mandarin) …My dad was in the army, so when I was born he wasn’t around… Initially, my mum was a government official in the township women’s department. She would go around to villages and give talks to raise women’s cultural awareness. Actually, I‘m not really sure—to me “women’s work” sounds rather abstract… When I still lived at home… I wasn’t so interested in family and marriage because I didn’t know what it was. But since I’ve left home, especially in Hong Kong, I’ve been able to slowly step out of my mum’s shadow. I can experience things and think about what I want, and feel things that are coming from me…

(Translated from Mandarin) …Since I was a child, I was taught in school not to participate in political debates, and to avoid all political activities. I felt that if I participated, something bad would happen. In time this has slowly become a kind of habit. I’ve become afraid…afraid of creating any negative outcomes for myself.

Although the state doesn’t explicitly say that if you speak out they will do something to you, in my heart there is a concern, and this worry creates a burden that wears my heart down, making me always uneasy…

(Translated from Mandarin) …The orientation camp was a very dark period for me. I really wanted to fit in, but it was very difficult, and it was very difficult to adjust psychologically also. So… After that, after learning Cantonese we could use that, with Mandarin and English, and we felt that we could communicate and do away with the misunderstandings and feelings of low self-esteem. But did we really assimilate, for example, into our Hong Kong classmates’ circles, I am not really sure…

(Translated from Cantonese) …I remember when I was in China, wearing the red scarf to school, studying patriotic things. When you learnt about Communism, it was all part of your studies, but it wasn’t something you needed to practice in your daily life, like the Communist spirit. It’s just a subject, like something you study for an exam. Perhaps it’s like Bible studies was. You don’t really practice what is said in the Bible everyday. It’s just like that. You still lead your life as a regular person; the Communist Party didn’t affect your life at all….

(Translated from Cantonese) …I know that many Hong Kongers don’t like certain behaviours of Mainlanders, so I feel that if I am with Hong Kongers, I hope I will not let them feel that I am different from them. At least, I will not be like their idea of an uncivilized Mainlander.