Documenting Hong Kong’s disappearing cultural practices
Home is where the heart is, and my heart will always belong in Hong Kong. The vertical city is an effervescence of culture and history, of modernism and tradition, constantly thriving in the in-between. As skyscrapers dot the skyline with shimmering lights, behind the city’s urban landscape and glamour lies a distinct culture that is often forgotten or overlooked by outsiders—one that is embodied by Hong Kong’s disappearing artistic practices.
In recent months and years, Hong Kong has been marred by future uncertainty and political turmoil, and through this project I seek to explore the meaning of documenting fragments of society and tradition as functions of fleeting time and place. After all, the products of the practices I’ve chosen to photograph—porcelain bowls, bird cages, and mahjong tiles—are embedded in my upbringing and life. I eat homecooked meals out of porcelain bowls every day; songbirds sang daily in my cousins’ home; my elders play mahjong at every major family celebration, cheering and sighing at won and lost games.
It’s no secret, however, that the traditional handicraft practices associated with these items—hand-painting porcelain bowls, hand-making bird cages, and hand-carving mahjong tiles—are disappearing. The labourious nature of creating these products by hand, combined with Hong Kong’s socio-cultural evolution, mean that these traditions will likely fade from existence in years to come, and to me, this development mirrors an impending overarching loss of Hong Kong identity. Given the city’s imminent political shift, it’s undeniable that Hong Kongers must adapt and change over time.
Simply put, this project is born out of my nostalgia for what will be lost in the future. The truth is that all the artisans I spoke to have already accepted this loss, but they remain committed to their practices out of sheer passion and dedication, or because they know no other livelihood. This project isn’t an argument for preservation; rather, it’s for personal and collective memory. My one hope is that you’ll follow along my footsteps and realize, ingrained in these photographs, stories, and interviews, Hong Kong’s inexplicable charm in the frame of its past, present, and future.
My name is Mabel Lui and I'm a senior at Scripps College, where I'm a media studies and art dual major. Frankly, this academic combination was rather unplanned, but it reflects my ongoing rediscovery of my love for art, especially through the lens of media.
Since I was able to hold up a pair of scissors, I’ve been enamoured with using my hands to create things, including everything from friendship bracelets and pottery to origami and clothing garments. When my hobbies momentarily deviated from the creative realm, picking up a camera allowed me to revisit my artistic freedoms and curiosities, albeit through a palpably different perspective. This project, then, aptly combines my affinities for both crafts and photography, manifesting through my love and nostalgia for Hong Kong.
In case you were interested in some other (arguably irrelevant) descriptors, I proudly call myself an ambivert as well as a fervent napper. Other ongoing loves include any and all food, bubble tea, and anything that evokes the feeling of childlike joy.