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Hong Kong artist Afa Annfa is taking us all home through ‘The Magical Hoop’

Afa Annfa talks to us about ‘The Magical Hoop’, her first large-scale interactive exhibition at Art Central Hong Kong.

Afa Annfa wants you to touch the art.

Go ahead, get involved. Take a photo. Tag a friend. And just maybe, through touching the art, the art will touch you.

At the seventh edition of Art Central Hong Kong, running now through Sunday at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre in Wan Chai, Afa Annfa and JPS Gallery present ‘The Magical Hoop’, her latest large-scale, interactive exhibition as part of the Yi Tai Project.

The born-and-raised Hong Kong artist, illustrator, model and Prestige 40 Under 40 honouree has captivated with projects both large and small, from last year’s 1980s New York City subway car in the basement of LANDMARK to her paintings, each exploring themes like distance and solitude by way of hauntingly cute subjects, a thousand-yard stare past the viewer to a memory, a person, a place long left behind.

That distance, once again, is a crucial part of ‘The Magical Hoop’ — a magical porthole (think Doraemon) that connects a laundromat in Hong Kong to a living room in Great Britain. Perhaps a familiar dichotomy for those who’ve left in recent years; some who can’t return. A longing for home, or a person or place who feels like it, is transpassable here; that distance and solitude can be bridged — if only for the duration of Art Central.

The artist’s drawings are also present within the installation; her young girls have also found their own magical hoops, their own portals to places across space and time. And Annfa invites visitors to experience the installation, both inside and out, while considering where their own hoops might one day take them.

“But most importantly, I hope they can have some fun visiting my laundromat!” she adds.

Before Art Central opened to the public, we spoke to Afa Annfa about ‘The Magical Hoop’, making art in Hong Kong and Tony Leung.

Tell us a bit about ‘The Magical Hoop’. Where did the inspiration strike for this concept? Is either side the “right” side to be on?

‘The Magical Hoop’ is my new large-scale installation artwork on view at Art Central this year. I’m thrilled and excited that I could be selected as one of the six artists / units to join Yi Tai Sculpture and Installation Projects this year.

My inspirations of this work came from the land problems in Hong Kong, the pandemic as well as the mass migration wave in Hong Kong in recent years. The magical hoop itself, as a medium to pass through different materials, was inspired by Doraemon’s famous gadget, ‘Penetrating Hoop’. 

People have been longing to meet their loved ones and are too fed up with quarantines and isolations these days. Moreover, seeing the mass migration phenomenon in Hong Kong, I imagine people can meet each other regardless the long physical distance with a gadget, thus I created ‘the magical hoop’, as a symbol of love, longing and yearning.

It’s an installation work that needs to be viewed as a whole, not just one side but both, for it embodies Hong Kong people’s longing for glimmers of hope and one day returning home.⁠

How was the process of bringing this to life for the spatial installation at Art Central? 

It was a really rushed project and we had faced a lot of challenges due to the severe Covid-19 situation in China that we could only do all the production and preparation in Hong Kong. We therefore had made quite a few changes in our installation setting, such as replacing the real washing machines with my own paintings. I’m so glad that my comrade JPS Gallery has been backing me up, the team is truly helpful so I can mainly focus on my paintings.

There’s always a bit of a longing, distant element in your work, whether that’s evoking memories of the grit and grime of New York’s subways or these characters looking through the hoops to the other side. Where do you draw that from?

Solitude, longing and the complicated emotions deep down have always been the core themes and topics in my work. I guess it’s related to my childhood and teenage memories. I felt extremely lonely during my puberty period due to some issues; it might be one of my most anxious and unsettled moments in life. I believe this period of time had largely influenced the content of my work.

Do you paint yourself into your works, or do you see yourself as any of these young girls?

I think so. My friends and the collectors told me that they could see me inside the characters and I wasn’t surprised. I didn’t intend to paint my own self-portrait, but one‘s traits can always be found in his or her creations. To me the little young girls (they are all called Kiki) can be anyone. They symbolize all of us people in a more down-to-earth sense. They are passionate, curious, adventurous and optimistic, always willing to explore new things with hope. 

What do you want people to take away from experiencing the installation?

I hope my work can resonate with the audience and provide them an emotional release. But most importantly, I hope they can have some fun visiting my laundromat!

You’ve spoken before about your appreciation for Hong Kong artists and their growing recognition. What do you think has contributed to this? Are there any Hong Kong artists that you find particularly inspiring or whose work you’ve enjoyed recently?

I know it may sound strange and definitely not appealing at all, but it has been the pandemic that has contributed to it. When artists from other countries couldn’t come to Hong Kong, people, commercial brands, malls, galleries or even auction houses started to put their eyes back on local artists. This gave local artists much more opportunities to showcase their work.

Among Hong Kong artists, I love Yeung Hok Tak, Stephen Wong, Mak Ying Tung and Wilson Shieh‘s work very much.

Is Hong Kong still a good place to be an artist? Are new artists able to find the support they need?

This is quite a difficult question, to be real. We may not be able to express our thinking in some sensitive topics too explicitly, but I believe it’s also a good practice to express our feelings in a deeper, creative and imaginative way. Never forget that whenever there are difficulties there are new chances. Hard times manifest love, unity and humanity and all of these can nurture our art.

Young artists in Hong Kong probably are facing the same problem: lacking a studio for work and to build momentum due to high rent costs, so far I don’t see much support that they could find.

You’ve worked with musicians in the past — did you enjoy that experience? Does music play any role in your creative process now? If so, how / what have you been listening to?

I like working with musicians because I love music. I would even say that without music, I could hardly get myself to focus on work. Most of the time, I listen to instrumental music or movie soundtracks while painting or brainstorming, because it can bring me into the vibes quickly. I’m quite sensitive to music in a sense that my emotions can easily be influenced by it.

On the other hand, I usually avoid music with lyrics, for lyrics would distract me and disturb my mind flow. However, when I need something to boost my energy I would listen to hip-hop or rap, like these days I need more passion and motivation so I’m listening to TomFatKi the local rap group.

Without being able to travel, where do you find inspiration as of late?

My inspiration always comes from the books I’m reading and what’s happening around me or in the world. So when we’re all stuck here in these two years, my work mainly focuses on depicting the situations or the vibes in Hong Kong. 

Tony Leung — do you have a message for him if he shows this year?

“Hello Tony! Please come see my installation and support Hong Kong artists! Oh, and most importantly, can I take a photo with you please?“

Anything else you’d like to share?

It’s my very first time to create a big-scale installation work and have my own booth in an international art event. I view it as one of my milestones in my art career. My gallerist and I are both very excited.

‘The Magical Hoop’ by Afa Annfa will be on display at Art Central (Yi Tai Project – Booth P4) from 25 May 2022 to 29 May 2022.

Hong Kong artist Afa Annfa is taking us all home through ‘The Magical Hoop’

Nathan Erickson


Born in Seoul and based in Hong Kong, Nathan has been writing about culture, style and food for some of the world's biggest publications for over a decade. He likes Canon lenses and the films of Chow Yun Fat.

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