Lam Mau: Hong Kong “National Education”

Originally posted on Thursday, September 13, 2012

Given that Hong Kong plays a significant part in the global economy, and that economic imperatives demand the creative use of computer graphic to denote a “cutting-edge” approach to the market, it is not surprising to see that Hong Kong dissidents are now creatively utilizing these abilities; abilities that they perhaps learned for “practical” matters (like: earning a living) but which are now being applied to politics in a way that inclines towards culture – a visual/artistic style that is playfully deployed to offer a critique of the powers that be.

This also has to do with the wide array of printers and print shops in Hong Kong that offer quality products at a reasonable price.  The current state of these printing technologies, and their various side effects, is something that every city, state and nation in the world has come to contend with – one of the side effects of readily available print reproduction is: street art and/or graffiti stencils. The “poor man’s” voice, or more properly – mark.

Today we offer one such example of this use of printed matter with a short interview with the Hong Kong artist Lam Mau, who we came across at an exhibition at C&G Artpartment in Kowloon, titled “Official Retraining Scheme”, an exhibition that dealt with the recently proposed (and then rejected), highly contentious issue of “National Education”, a curriculum designed by Beijing to purportedly integrate Hong Kongers into a greater Chinese mentality.

Likink: Given your use of the test form in your print edition, how do you generally feel about the state of education in Hong Kong?

Lam Mau: I use the format of exam paper to present my work, because first of all I am familiar with the format. I am teaching senior secondary students and need to prepare them for the public exam, so I need to design a lot of tests and practice exams. At the same time I understand the state of education in Hong Kong, which is exam oriented. Results are everything. No matter if the process is boring, spoon feeding and inhuman….the job of student is to listen and keep their mouths closed, pay attention during lesson, be aware of the strategies that teachers tell them and work hard to get higher marks. The authorities are always thinking in a narrow-minded way that Hong Kong needs to solely concern itself with the economy. Therefore we need to train our young generation to be good employees or civil servants who should be fixable and obedient to someone who pays you money. Although the whole system is just like factory production and sometimes is ridiculous and produces a lot of losers and a small percentage of elites, the system still continues. That’s the problem, that’s why people are afraid of “national education” because we don’t believe in school, don’t believe the administration of the school; don’t believe the Education authority of our government.

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Likink:  Why did you choose to use English in these works?

Lam Mau: English is still (one of) the official languages of Hong Kong SAR and is also a global language. Although Hong Kong people always struggle with an identity that claims we are HongKongese, not Chinese, for me I am not that politically angry with the idea of Chinese identity or the post-colonial status. What I want to express is the universal value of the individual, therefore I use a more universal language to present my work.

Likink: How did you find the quotes that you used in your copybook and/or what is their significance?

Lam Mau: I found the quotes on the internet. I want to know the difference between citizens and nations, therefore I searched a lot of websites, looking for such a definition. I researched different countries’ situations and looked for different forums, read people’s comments, etc. Finally, I decided to pick the quotes of people from different nations, different social statuses and different generations. I ignored the quotes that included the name of a specific nation. All the quotes that appear in the copybook should express universal ideas, not those which are only suitable for one or two countries.

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Likink: Are you positive or negative about the political future of Hong Kong?

Lam Mau: I have positive hopes for the political future of Hong Kong. I know I must have hope about future because I live here. But the real situation is not that positive because the majority of Hong Kong people have not yet woken up. They still live in their Hong Kong dream, just like the American dream: You just work very hard and then you can get what you want so you don’t complain. The truth is we are helpless and everything is out of control, unless we make a noise and make it louder until others are aware of the problems.

Likink: Have you made any other works in this format (printed material/limited editions)?

Lam Mau: I did some installation and mixed media works before. This is the first time to use printed material for my work, mainly because of the theme and the content I want to express. For these few years, Hong Kong society has become more and more uncertain and one of the reasons for this is the media. Words and images can be expressed rapidly through different media. I want the audiences to sit down and try to unlearn what they used to know; to consider something that seems familiar but is in a totally different context. I want them to reflect on what they are doing and experience things through the contrast of the word/image and the real world.

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