Issue 90, September 2010
Hainan memories
Art, Design & Media students and their professors exhibit films and photographs capturing the plight of a rural Chinese village in the throes of modernisation.

There is a Chinese proverb that says “one picture is worth ten thousand words”.

Inspired by this, 11 students and four professional artists from NTU’s School of Art, Design & Media journeyed to Hong Shui Village in a remote part of China to document the last traces of its indigenous culture and architecture.

Tucked in the remote, jagged mountains of Hainan, the village is being demolished as part of a government relocation scheme to move all rural families into standardised concrete housing. Beyond capturing the authentic lifestyle and tools of the Li people through pictures and film, the expedition sought to depict the struggles of both the villagers and outsiders working to conserve the disappearing culture.

The team’s artistic explorations were displayed at an exhibition, “Housing memories: The eclipse of a Hainan tribe”, held from 4 to 29 September at Singapore’s Central Public Library. A satellite exhibition was concurrently held at the Asian Civilisations Museum to reach a wider audience. Both the expedition, involving two trips to Hainan, and exhibition were sponsored by Canon Singapore, Wildlife Asia, and the China Exploration and Research Society.

Art with a message
Both exhibitions served as a reminder of the universality of change and the value of appreciating what is being lost, besides drawing attention to conservation efforts. 

The rare opportunity to immortalise the last vestige of traditional Li culture is something that fourth-year Photography and Digital Imaging major Wong Jing Wei is thankful for – although he had not counted on participating in a bloody pig-slaughtering ritual. He says: “As a Singaporean who grew up in a flat, it was special to witness such a traditional event.”

Jing Wei also appreciated “learning how to interact with people and gaining their trust to photograph them” –  “an important lesson that you can’t get in a typical classroom setting,” he points out.

“Understanding their lives and their struggles made me appreciate my own environment much better. It also gave me a taste of what is it like to be a documentary photographer working away from home.”

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