Kacey Wong, born Wong Kwok-choi, is an award-winning Chinese interdisciplinary artist whose experimental art investigates the relationship between man and environment, questioning the social and political norms within these spaces. Wong was born in Hong Kong in 1970, but has pursued his arts education internationally, studying Architecture at Cornell University, earning a master’s degree in Sculpture from Chelsea College of the Arts, and most recently receiving his Doctor of Fine Arts from Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology. Wong has been making art for over twenty years, but was largely inspired to actively participate in public protest after Chinese dissident artist Ai Weiwei was arrested in 2011. Since then, Wong has been active in the street art community and has used art to draw attention to Hong Kong’s political unrest. In 2013, he began a mock design competition for the logo of Hong Kong’s pro-democracy Umbrella Movement, bringing attention to protest art in Hong Kong through social media.
Since Hong Kong’s handover from Britain to China, Chinese Communist crackdowns have slowly eroded any sense of democracy in Hong Kong. Seeking to quash a wave of historic protests against a bill that would have allowed citizens from Hong Kong to be extradited to China, Hong Kong’s government slammed a draconian national security law through their legislature in July 2020, giving Chinese authorities extensive new power to curb dissent and criminalize free speech. The law criminalized “secession, subversion, organization and perpetration of terrorist activities, and collusion with a foreign country or with external elements to endanger national security.” These broad, vaguely defined categories have allowed authorities to abuse their power and crack down on dissidents across the island, leading to the arrests of countless protestors, activists, and cultural figures who had been publicly critical of Chinese influence in Hong Kong. As threats to democracy in Hong Kong have risen, and the stakes of making political art are higher than ever, Kacey Wong has not backed down.
The breadth of Kacey Wong’s work is a feat in itself. Wong’s past projects range from performance art to sound installations to sculptures using repurposed materials. In his 2018 performance piece, “The Patriot,” Wong crouched in a red metal cell playing the national anthem of Communist China on an accordion at the Central Government Complex of Hong Kong. In this work, Wong aimed to embody those who were imprisoned “in the name of patriotism” and protest the National Anthem Law that would greatly deprive artistic freedom if passed.
Though Wong often engages with serious issues of injustice and oppressive government action, he does not shy away from whimsy or playfulness. In a 2019 piece titled “Choi Gor,” Wong took to the streets of Hong Kong as the character Choi Gor, a “passionate and righteous” middle aged gangster who has clung onto his “old world” persona of violence and terror only to be faced with the idea of justice as he emerges into modern day life.
Kacey Wong is not only a respected artist and activist, but also a teacher. Wong was invited by TED Talk Vienna in 2019 to talk about his protest art work and share his Five Points of Protest Art theory, protest strategies, and stories from the front line of using art as protest. To Wong, protest art is more than just a tool to communicate and make change. It is a lens through which one can investigate the self and the constantly shifting world around us.
Wong’s Five Points of Protest Art theory are:
- Punish your enemy, not yourself
- It has to be light…punish yourself not your enemy…you must be able to carry it;
- It must be easy to understand, it’s not a museum or gallery space…if the public don’t get it they won’t look at it;
- It must be artistic. Craftsmanship, colour, form, conceptual?;
- You have to release it fast because political awareness changes faster.. Andy Warhol stated a 15 minutes of fame, now it’s 15 seconds. Timing is important too. You don’t want it to be yesterday’s news. At the right time, it becomes the prophecy of the future.
Kacey Wong is a true innovator, describing himself as Hong Kong’s “cultural fireman.” Despite the constant threats to free expression, Kacey Wong maintains optimism in his creative exploration. Rooted in his belief that “the greater the limitation, the greater the creativity,” Wong remains hopeful in the face of repression.
By Piper Morrison, March 2021. Piper is currently pursuing a B.A. at Oberlin College, concentrating on American Studies and Arts Management.