Hong Kong Umbrella Movement Exhibition


In January 2016, myself and four colleagues (Christina Ho, Andrea Ledesma, Kara Noto, and Emily Sellon) traveled to Hong Kong through a partnership with the John Nicolas Brown Center for Public Humanities and Cultural Heritage (JNBC), where we are currently working towards our M.A., and the Chinese University of Hong Kong’s (CUHK) Cultural Management program.

This collaboration has been building transnational support for the public humanities over several years. In 2015 the first group of Brown delegates visited CUHK and facilitated workshops for students who were participants of the Umbrella Movement. Read about it here.

Photographs of the research trip to Hong Kong

This year our goal was to collect enough material to bring back to Brown and curate an exhibition about the Umbrella Movement for universal suffrage. We interviewed over twenty students, artists, and faculty who participated in the occupation of major Hong Kong intersections. We also took tours of the occupation sites, heard lectures on the subject, and looked at archival material all in the span of a 10-day visit. Besides our few technological and logistical problems, our trip was a great success and we were able to become knowledgeable about the Umbrella Movement through multiple sources.

Three days upon returning to Brown we started our first day of classes. Our participation in the trip came with an understanding that we would enroll in AMST 2540 “Methods in Public Humanities” and curate an exhibit about the Umbrella Movement. Three days upon returning to Providence (January 27th), the time started to tick towards the deadline of our first exhibit opening (April 1st).

Our first brainstorming meetings were filled with brilliant and ambitious ideas. Still feeling the excitement from Hong Kong, and a bit jet lagged, we wanted out exhibitions to be chaotic — taking on a similar feeling as the occupations sites. It was loosely planned that we had four exhibit sites to curate. We imagined patrons would be guided through the exhibits by a voice coming out of a yellow umbrella. They would look at walls covered in yellow paint and vinyl photos spanning the length of the wall. Then we could place the exhibit photos over this, giving a complex feel and structure to our entire theme. 

Photographs of various events at University of Rhode Island Feinstein Campus exhibit

We quickly came to realize our over-ambitious plans and had to scale back. First off, one of the possible exhibit spaces filled their calendar and the dates they had available was too short of a timeframe. Also, we simply did not have the money to try and make these plans show up on the walls. At first we were guaranteed $500 from our program to curate three exhibit sites. This included printing, supplies, promotion, and an exhibit designer (not including the incidentals we did not foresee.)

However, we were able to hold onto some ideas thanks to partnerships. With less than a week before the deadline, I approached Fifth Harmony with the Creative Arts Council Grant opportunity. I quickly got to writing the grant and after revisions from the team and support from Susan Smulyan, we were able to submit a successful grant for an award of $1,000. See our grant here: CAC_Grant_HongKong. Another incredibly helpful moment is when Steven Pennell, the Coordinator of Arts and Culture at the University of Rhode Island (URI) Feinstein Campus, voluntarily printed and framed all of the photos that would be used for the URI exhibit. This allowed us to save a lot of money on printing costs for this exhibit, and even allowed us to use some of these photos for other exhibits. 

When it finally came to hanging the exhibits (p.s. “Are we hanging today?” takes on a different meaning as a public human), this came with its own set of lessons. Luckily Steven manages the URI space well and also hung the photos. However, we did have to go and hang the exhibit text and instillations; but this required nothing more than hanging strips and fishing line.

The Granoff Center for the Creative Arts at Brown is where we needed to do more work. Here Emily Sellon was the lead curator and did great work at having things prepared for April 28th — instillation day. Before we arrived to help install, she had everything mapped on digital layouts. So we (including other public humans who volunteered) each took a section and started to hang. This was my first experience and I was surprised at how much detail goes into hanging photos on walls. There were multiple attempts at measuring, arranging, and choosing. Even though the 3-4 hours spent on this exhibit was tedious, it ended up being good practice for our final exhibit. 

Photographs of exhibit at Granoff Center for Creative Arts

The JNBC museum space took the most energy. This is largely due to the fact that we had the most possibilities in changing the space to fit our needs and less restrictions. On Sunday, May 1st, Fifth Harmony and other public humans spent over eight hours installing. We started by cleaning out the previous exhibit, laying out the photos, and planning for the rest of the day. After this, while some of us cut photos, put them on foam board, and them cut it again to give a clean cut effect; others worked on building and creating the umbrella fabric instillation that now covers the chimney. Other tasks included painting the intro wall, taping the Lion Rock mountain outline to the wall, and putting up close to 3,000 sticky notes for the Lennon Wall. It was an all-day team effort that included Chengdu Taste for lunch. 

We agreed that a successful exhibition for us meant that people interacted and learned. We measured this in different ways. One was the amount in which people interacted with the Lennon Wall, where people were able to show support for the Umbrella Movement or voice their opinion about the current social movement. While the Granoff and JNBC are still in its early stages, the URI exhibit collected over fifty comments from patrons. Another way in which we measured interaction or knowledge was whenever we were asked to speak. At the URI campus we spoke twice, once at Gallery Night Providence and at the North Eastern Public Humanities (NEPH) Consortium on behalf of Brown University’s JNBC.

All of the exhibits are now complete. MOMENTS: Images from the Umbrella Movement at the URI Feinstein Campus (April 4-28) provided a general overview of the Umbrella Movement. Artful Protest: Creative Expression and the Umbrella Movement at the Granoff Center for the Creative Arts (April 29 – May 14) focuses on the artistic expression in the occupied sites. Finally, Umbrella Movement: Youth & Activism at the JNBC (May 4 – September 23) gives a look at youth participation, police brutality, and issues of a generational divide in the Umbrella Movement. We especially try to tie the issues from the JNBC exhibit back to local conversations. Please see below for dates/upcoming events.

Photographs of exhibit at John Nicholas Brown Center

Even though this project has been a team effort, I come out learning invaluable lessons. Not coming from a museum background, I learned so much about simply doing the work that goes into curating. It takes careful planning, time, and patience. I was able to gain some experience on different programs (i.e., programs in Adobe Creative Cloud). And I still plan to learn more about Omeka as we finalize the online component to our exhibition. Visit the digital exhibit here. I believe, most importantly, I have come to acknowledge that I was most useful as a person to write/edit texts for the exhibits. When it came to doing work in Adobe or printing photos or instillation, my colleagues were more experienced and guided me while completing these tasks. 

These skills will continue to benefit me as I move into the next phase of my speculative project (which is no longer speculative but actually happening. See project development here). I will be using Adobe to create a promotional flier for the event. It will be a quick and simple set up in english and spanish. Further, our teams use of Omeka has me thinking about how I can use this in my other project to possibly house the archives we collect. A big difference in the projects is that this project is about curating with archives we already have, my other project is about providing a space to build archives. While eventually I will get to curating, my main concern for my other project is providing a space where people feel comfortable sharing their items.

This semester in AMST 2540, myself and four colleagues successfully put on a multi-site exhibition about the Hong Kong Umbrella Movement. Together we remained flexible in the process and this resulted in three different exhibits, seven presentations, and five more experienced public humans.

Collection of photographs are documentation of curatorial team having fun!

Past Dates/Events:

April 29 – May 14 // Artful Protest: Creative Expression and the Umbrella Movement // Granoff Center for the Creative Arts //

May 4 – September 23 // Umbrella Movement: Youth & Activism // John Nicholas Brown Center for Public Humanities //

May 11 // 4-6PM // Location: Granoff Center for the Creative Arts & John Nicholas Brown Center for Public Humanities // Umbrella Movement Exhibits: Multi-site Reception with Visiting Scholar Oscar Ho, Chinese University of Hong Kong //

May 12 // 5-6:30 PM // Location: John Nicholas Brown Center for the Public Humanities // The [Umbrella] Revolution Will Not Be Televised: The Power of Viral Videos and Alternative Filmmaking //