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Wednesday, August 10, 2016, 22:45

Sharing peace and harmony via art and education

By Dominic Lam Man-kit
Sharing peace and harmony via art and education
Figure legend: The 12 Grand Prize winning paintings of 2016 International Students’ Visual Arts

Contest-cum-Exhibition of Hong Kong (clockwise from top right): Arpa Markarian, 16, Iran; Audrey

Cheng, 7, Hong Kong; Maneesita Ochanon, 16, Thailand; Gagdas Kemal Agca, 11, Turkey; Tan Hong-qian,

8, Hong Kong; Gabriele Virigilio, 7, Italy; Liu Yiyi, 9, the Chinese mainland; Ana Cristina Najas, 11, Ecuador;

Orrawan Rukkasikorn, 14, Thailand; together with Dominic Lam’s painting entitled Olympic Spirit: Ode to

Happiness (center). PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY

Hong Kong has often been accused, rightly or wrongly, of being a “cultural desert”. However, due in large part to the joint effort initiated by two leading art educators, their organizations and colleagues, Hong Kong has the potential to be a “cultural oasis” for many generations to come.

In early 2009, Vanessa Li, senior curriculum development officer at the Hong Kong Education Bureau (EDB) came up with the idea of staging annually a world-class international visual arts competition and exhibition for primary and secondary students. It aims to provide an international art arena to inspire students’ creativity and develop their global perspective.

She sought advice and received strong support from a number of local and international experts in art education. Among these were US Professor Michael Day, former president of the National Art Education Association, and the management team at UNESCO Hong Kong. Most importantly, Professor Laurence Tam Chi-sing, who was the founding chief curator of the Hong Kong Museum of Art, an artist, and an art teacher at Wah Yan College, gave Li full support and advice that ensured her dream would come true. The International Students’ Visual Arts Contest-cum-Exhibition of Hong Kong (HKISAC) was born in 2010.

Spearheaded by the EDB, in addition Po Leung Kuk, a leading charity organization in Hong Kong with special focus on helping children, became the founding co-presenter of the event. Other strong supporters of this project include Secretary for Education Eddie Ng Hak-kim, the Art Promotion Office of the Leisure and Cultural Services Department, and World Culture Organization. The inaugural contest and exhibition began in 2010 with 3,200 artworks submitted from 25 countries and regions, increasing to more than 50 in recent years. At least three international art experts, each representing Europe, Americas and Oceania, and two from Hong Kong and the Chinese mainland, are invited to be adjudicators every year.

Twelve “Hong Kong Grand Prize” winners are chosen every year, each receiving a cash award of $1,000, a trophy and travel expenses to attend the award presentation in the SAR. In addition, 40 Honorable Mentions and about 200 Certificates of Merit are selected.

The medium used for the annual competition alternates between painting and photography, with a theme selected by the co-presenters. The themes for paintings have been: My World (2010); Image · Imagination (2012); My Place · My People (2014); and Harmony (2016). And those for photography have included: Capturing Eternity (2011); My Place · My People (2013); and Harmony (2015).

Many international scholars, artists and celebrities have contributed their words of wisdom and encouragement to the student contestants. Among them — David Paton, founder of Project Orbis (2011): “Without creativity, an aspiring artist is doomed to mediocrity, but with creativity, there is no limit to his achievements”; Dustin Hoffman, film and stage maestro (2012): “In the words of Samuel Becket: ‘Fail — fail again — and then fail better’”; Ferid Murad, Nobel laureate in medicine (2012): “The visual image of different objects, colors, textures and shadows allows the brain to process and integrate the information that reinforces the signals from our other senses. This coordinated reinforcement enhances our satisfaction, pleasure and memory of the information”; Bryant Rossiter, former director of research at Kodak (2013): “Curiosity is the intellectual well-spring for creative thinking; and photography is a means of expressing and sharing human and natural wonderments in artist form”; Torsten Wiesel, Nobel laureate in medicine (2013): “My warmest congratulations to the thousands of you for being part of a unique and beautiful display of your creative talents. Obviously, only a fraction of you will receive prizes but more important is your effort to share your creative work with international students having different backgrounds and experience”; Schim Schimmel, famous artist and writer (2014): “Follow your passion! Live your dream! At nineteen years old I decided to live my life as an artist no mater what. If you want to be an artist more than anything else you can imagine, then never give up. Your life will be the happiest and most fulfilled when you follow your passion”; former French ambassador to China Pierre Barroux (2016): “As Pablo Picasso said, ‘Every child is an artist; the problem is staying an artist when you grow up”; Jackie Chan, maestro of film and philanthropy (2016): “I hope one day there will be no boundary, and the world will be connected like a straight line.”

The theme for the 2016 Hong Kong event is “Harmony”, highlighting the need for peaceful coexistence among a world of different ethnicities, religions, economic developments, etc, and in light of increasing international conflicts and terrorist attacks.

This year’s HKISAC also coincides with the 2016 Olympic Games currently ongoing in Rio de Janeiro. The Olympic Games is arguably the most historic and widely watched sports event, with the vision and mission of using sport competitions as a means to promote world peace and harmony. Interestingly, in conjunction with the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games, the International Olympics Committee (IOC) also recognized visual arts as another effective and popular means to promote world peace and harmony. Accordingly, the IOC invited its 205 member nations and territories to submit their chosen artists’ paintings for the first Olympics Fine Art competition. This art competition was repeated at the 2012 London Olympic Games, complete with an award ceremony, medal presentation as well as an exhibition of the winning artworks at the Barbican Centre in London during the Olympic Games. This is another fine example of the power of art in unifying the world.

What better way to begin such unification efforts than with children who are the future of our world? Out of the thousands of contestants from almost 50 nations and regions, this year’s HKISAC Grand Prize winners came from Hong Kong, the Chinese mainland, Ecuador, Iran, Italy, Thailand and Turkey.

In celebration of the Rio Olympics and this year’s HKISAC, the 12 Grand Prize awardees’ artworks have been amalgamated with a painting entitled Olympic Spirit: Ode to Happiness that this author painted at the invitation of Wei Jizhong, former secretary-general of the China Olympic Committee. This painting was exhibited at Hong Kong’s Olympics House and also used as the 2008 greeting card by the Sports Federation and Olympic Committee of Hong Kong when the Olympics Equestrian Competition was held in Hong Kong.

About 50 of the most acclaimed paintings selected by the judges will be exhibited and open to the public both at the Hong Kong Cultural Centre (Aug 13-21) and at Hong Kong International Airport (Aug 12 - Nov 30).

Taken together, visual art has been recognized as an effective medium to foster children’s creativity and sharpen their observational sense, qualities that are most important for their intellectual development. In this regard, for the past seven years, HKISAC has built an excellent platform to enhance children’s creativity around the globe, as well as advance world peace and harmony.

The author is the founding chairman of World Eye Organization and World Culture Organization, as well as a former member of the US President’s Committee for the Arts and Humanities.

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