art: the subconscious search for meaning

Hong Kong Protest


HONG KONG PROTEST
acrylic, gold foil, and mirror shards on canvas, 24×36″
August – September 2019

Background

In August of 2019, one photo catalyzed my need to paint. I had been following the burgeoning protests of Hong Kong, yet I never felt so moved until that moment. I saw an Orwellian ghost haunting the 21st century, encapsulated in one giant eye. An eye overshadowing the crowd below it, like an umbrella. But the crowd, in all of its colour and glory, refuses to stay in Big Brother’s shadow — they hold their own umbrellas.

Although I wasn’t there, I feel connected to these events. Perhaps, being half Ukrainian, I see Ukraine’s 2014 protests repeated, or maybe I am simply afraid. Afraid of losing the privilege of freedom. This idea, of freedom as privilege, sounds preposterous; being free should not be a privilege, but a basic human right.

To me, this painting goes beyond Hong Kong. It is a portrait of us. As, regardless of who or where we are, we are human. Being human means we speak the same language, we share that universal thirst for being free.

Let’s go — join the crowd — hold our umbrellas high.

Symbolism

Hong Kong Protest umbrellas

umbrellas

The ubiquitous splotches of colour are umbrellas. These simple objects have transformed from weather shields to political weapons; weapons wielding unrest, resistance, and a collective call for democracy.

Hong Kong Protest mirror shards

Big Brother breaking

The eye is a haunting reminder of George Orwell’s classic novel 1984. It belongs to Big Brother, a never-blinking force of totalitarianism. To express this incessant gaze, the pupil is made with mirror shards, allowing the observer to see themselves and realize they are being watched. Yet, by coming together and protesting for freedom, the eye’s gaze shatters, cracks, breaks. It is Big Brother breaking.

Hong Kong Protest crying

The Tear

Big Brother, overwhelmed by the crowd, not only breaks, but cries. Here, the eye is weak and vulnerable, which is counter-intuitive to the totalitarian force it normally represents. Yet, its tear has a double meaning. It also symbolizes the protester who received an eye injury from a violent encounter with the police. This protester is a symbol of the movement, as many demonstrate with a bandaged eye, or even express their support with tattoos.

Hong Kong Protest signature

Black & White

Flags are powerful symbols, both in uniting a nation or in fuelling a country’s unrest. The Hong Kong flag — a white bauhinia flower growing in a red field — is being used for the latter. The red, a colour meant to unite China’s two systems, has been replaced with black. The flower, once growing proud, now wilts in a field of darkness. To connect to this message, I painted the sides of my canvas black and signed my name in white.