Axel Vervoordt Gallery is pleased to present Sailing, Jaffa Lam's first solo exhibition in Europe. The selection of large-scale and intimate installations demonstrates how the Hong Kong-based, multidisciplinary artist and educator invites her community to be part of the core of her art practice. The mixed media artworks, often made from recycled, reclaimed, or industrial materials, demonstrate her socially oriented approach in an evolving experiment to reveal the positive influence an artist can have in society.
Lam migrated from China's Fujian province to Hong Kong in her early teens. She found herself in a city in transition. A bustling, fluid metropolis—with great prosperity due to the duty-free trade port and thriving textile industries—ballooned with real estate projects that came to dominate the streetscape. The socio-economic context then changed rapidly, with declining industries, mass emigration, and human work replaced by machines or relocation to cheaper locations.
Together with her mother and sister, Lam toiled in garment factories, dreamed of becoming an artist, and started her studies at the prestigious Chinese University of Hong Kong in 1993, “in which there was still a strong emphasis on the self". A decade later, the 2003 SARS epidemic and societal changes led to the desire to align emotions with those of those around her, resulting in community-based art. But the idea of a dream, she says, remains ambiguous for a second-generation migrant: many parents push their children towards elite jobs. Personal fulfillment is an afterthought.
Since 2009, Lam has worked on her ongoing Micro Economy project in which she can try to bring change. This change has centred around people within the community who share a past, whom she understands, and to whom she can connect the heritage of the past to contemporary social realities. Together with those close to her—members of the Hong Kong Women Workers' Association, stay-at-home mothers, people with a migrant background, and people who lost their jobs because of changing economic circumstances—she creates installations in a variety of materials and formats, always without limiting herself.
The artworks—which never have the finality of being beautiful, unlike some political consensuses—are not mass-produced: each figure has a meaning. Confidence in her community ensures no worries about intellectual property. Although she gets questions about how many people can benefit from her work and what the KPIs are, this is unimportant. What matters is her contribution. She seeks a wider viewpoint by focussing on the emotional values of her work and the impact created inside and outside her micro-economy. Lam examines the long-term repercussions, generation by generation, of how a small individual can ignite societal change. An individual’s action can set transformation in motion within a family, which reverberates within another and develops around a community, a country, and potentially, the world.
Lam recognised overlaps with Hong Kong when she was on a study visit to Antwerp. In both places, history flows through the veins of the street plan, largely defined by buildings that recall trade and labour from the past and present. This ensured that prosperity and migration went hand in hand. Today, much of the heritage that recalls these periods is being erased by real estate projects and gentrification: worker-inhabited zones in the port area gave way to revaluation projects.
Artists: Jaffa Lam