top of page

The Art of Protest: The Story of Hongkongers

By Cindy Yung


Lumlilumlong ‘Thousand Hands Man’, 2019. Oil on canvas. Image courtesy of the artists.

As we step into the third year of the global COVID-19 pandemic, it seems that these challenging times are finally coming to an end, as more countries have eased restrictions. There is hope that we have finally made it through the darkest period. But then, a war struck. A totalitarian ruler forcefully invades a country, and local people, regardless of gender and age, are taking a stand and uniting against the opposing force to protect their homeland, their values, and their democracy.

This is the story of Ukraine, but it could also be the story of Hong Kong and their fight for freedom. ‘The Art of Protest: The Story of Hongkongers’ was an exhibition curated by Mei Yuk Wong and Ian Vines, at the Castlefield Gallery New Art Spaces in February 2022. Featuring five artists that are connected to the city, with some recently migrating from Hong Kong to the UK, the exhibition is a timely response to the current world, where oppression of freedom and democratic values is still a pressing matter.

In 2019, two million people in Hong Kong took to the street to oppose the extradition law proposed by the government.

The society feared that the law was going to put those who speak against the Chinese Communist Party in danger, as the bill would allow Hong Kong citizens to be extradited to mainland China and judged under their legal system. The bill was withdrawn, but the price paid was high. Thousands of protesters were harmed by unnecessary force by the police, some of whom were arrested and sentenced to years of imprisonment.


After more than a year of ongoing protests since March 2019, the Chinese government introduced the National Security Law in May 2020. Zhang Xiaoming, a deputy director of the central Chinese government office for Hong Kong explains “This law is to punish a tiny number of criminals who seriously endanger national security – a sharp sword hanging high over their heads that will serve as a deterrent against external forces meddling in Hong Kong”. This final blow shattered the hopes of many and raised international concerns. Some political activists fled the city to seek refuge, and some were imprisoned, including Jimmy Lai, founder of the pro-democratic newspaper Apple Daily.


In response to the city’s turmoil and to reflect the UK’s historical, moral commitment to Hong Kong, the UK government announced the British National (Overseas) (BNO) visa as an immigration route. Hong Kong was a British colony for 150 years until the handover of territory back to China in 1997. Those born in Hong Kong before the handover, and who hold a BNO passport, have now become eligible for themselves and their family members to apply for the visa. Since 1st January 2021, when the visa was put in place, more than 100,000 Hongkongers have applied and settled in the UK.

Exhibition View of The Art of Protest: The Story of Hongkongers, curated by Mei Yuk Wong and Ian Vines, Castlefield Gallery New Art Spaces, February 2022. Photo by Cindy Yung.

On the last day of the exhibition, I spoke to the curator Mei Yuk Wong. As a resident in the UK for over two decades, she is still deeply attached to her roots in Hong Kong. She closely followed the news during the protests and this idea of setting up an exhibition had been lingering in her mind for a few years. Thanks to the support of Castlefield Gallery and Culture Warrington, in addition to funding from the Arts Council England, ‘The Art of Protest: The Story of Hongkongers’ could be realised.


Featuring Juarts, Ka, Lum Li, Lum Long and Mei Yuk Wong herself, these five artists presented a collection of paintings, installations, sculptures and multimedia works that reflect their emotions towards the protests. Whilst some of the artists were born and raised in the UK, others are immigrants who recently migrated or relocated years ago from Hong Kong.

Exhibition View of The Art of Protest: The Story of Hongkongers, curated by Mei Yuk Wong and Ian Vines, Castlefield Gallery New Art Spaces, February 2022. Photo by Cindy Yung.


‘News flow’ is a collage work by Mei Yuk Wong of newspapers from the UK and Hong Kong that covers stories of the protests. On the one hand, it demonstrates the eagerness of overseas Hongkongers to keep abreast of the latest developments during the protest. On the other, there is an inevitable feeling of helplessness due to the physical distance separating them and their homeland. Mei Yuk Wong explains “…because we care so much about Hong Kong, even though we live in this country, we were chasing the news day and night. Sometimes we were just like them (people in Hong Kong). We couldn’t sleep, we were worried as well. We were so depressed”.

Art offers an outlet to express one’s emotions, and in this case - frustration, anger, and helplessness. Engaging in creative activities helps relieve our anxiety and negativity, which links closely to our well-being. This exhibition serves as a reminder of the collective experience Hongkongers, both local and abroad, underwent during the most difficult times in recent years. They are given the opportunity to bond and share their pain, using the exhibition as a platform.

"I think the exhibition is partly for the Hongkongers newly arrived - to give them the space to remember the experience and to acknowledge the experience. Also, to let the people in Hong Kong know that they are not forgotten. We are trying our best to do something here in another country,” Mei Yuk Wong.

‘The Art of Protest’ has successfully raised awareness among the local general public. Mei Yuk Wong recalls two visitors, who knew little about the political movement, expressing that they have learnt a lot from the exhibition and that they would continue to pay attention to the situation in Hong Kong. This exhibition connected those who have a strong attachment to Hong Kong, but it also bridged gaps between people from these two historically tied places. 


Lum Li and Lum Long, wife and husband respectively, formed an artist duo named Lumlilumlong. They have settled in the UK for under a year. Back in Hong Kong, most of their works are themed around societal issues, particularly those involving the grassroot communities. Naturally, they created artworks revolving around the protests as they unfolded in 2019, which eventually made them a target of the authorities.  They received threats from police officers, who knocked on their studio’s door at early hours and claimed they would be in trouble if they continued to create similar works. Parties which cooperated with them such as exhibition organisers also received disturbing warnings. Deemed they were no longer safe in the city, they closed their studio and fled to the UK secretly last summer.

Lumlilumlong ‘Thousand Hands Man’, 2019. Oil on canvas. Image courtesy of the artists.


One of the highlighted works in the exhibition ‘Thousand Hands Man’ portrays an individual in the typical ‘black-bloc’ gear commonly worn by the pro-democracy protestors in the front-line.  Inspired by the imagery of the Thousand Hand Guanyin, a deity worshipped by Buddhists, the character in the painting has multiple hands protruding from its body, each holding an item with significance to the protest. The water bottles held above the head symbolise a pair of nunchucks, the signature icon of the deceased martial arts legend Bruce Lee. His famous quote “Be water” was widely adopted by protestors as a tactic to be flexible when evading the police’s assault.


Lumlilumlong created two new works for the exhibition, ‘Falling Man’ and ‘Drowning Man’, to pay tribute to the numerous missing protestors whose final fate is unknown.

During the time of the protests, there were unnamed bodies falling from buildings and had even drowned. Official reports claimed these incidents as “without suspicion” and closed the cases. The truth will be hidden from the public forever.  


The couple met when they studied art in France. They share the same interests in medieval art and their style of painting becomes more similar as time goes by. The artists described themselves as working in ‘shifts’, as Lum Li will usually paint at night and Lum Long will take up the morning to afternoon hours. Each responsible for half of the paintings, their works appear to be harmonised at first glance as if they were painted by one hand. However, when observed closely, one can tell the difference in colour tones and brush strokes. The side painted by Lum Li is characterised by a more colourful and hopeful quality, whereas Lum Long’s side is bleaker and more sombre. This slight variation reflects the personalities of the two artists. After experiencing all the turmoil and fear associated with the protests, Lumlilumlong now settles in London and hopes to continue their career as full-time artists.


‘Liberate Hong Kong, Revolution of Our Time’ is one of the frequently used slogans during the ongoing protests. It has become a banned sentence within the city as it can potentially breach the national security law for advocating the independence of Hong Kong. Seeing the slogan at the exhibition gave me mixed feelings. Like many Hongkongers who have first-hand experiences of the protest, it is comforting to see there are still many who share the same beliefs and have yet to give up. However, knowing such an exhibition is not likely to be carried out in Hong Kong’s near future feels disheartening.


Freedom is like air. When you own it, you may take it for granted. It is only when it is taken from you, you gradually start to suffocate. ‘The Art of Protest: The Story of Hongkongers’ is a prompt for us to realise the significance of democratic values, and to defend them with all our might.



bottom of page