DEAL (30 June to 15 August 1998) was a two-person exhibition with Mayling To at the 198 Gallery, that opened to coincide with the first anniversary of the handover of the former British colony of Hong Kong to the People’s Republic of China. The project presented two separate yet related bodies of work developed in dialogue, exploring ideas of authenticity, ambivalence and commodification, in relation to place, identity, the historical moment, and the difficulties of bearing witness.


DEAL – a contract, a pact, a transaction, an imminent gamble. I initiated this project as an opportunity to explore in dialogue with Mayling To our respective relationships to Hong Kong and Britain as second generation immigrants, in light of the return of the colony to Chinese sovereignty.[1] I spent several months in Hong Kong in the period preceding the Handover, meeting with artists and curators for whom questions around local, migrant and diasporic identities, cultures and histories were evidenced across work that played – through the use of sites, materials and text – on and off official ‘standards’ of language, of culture, of history (against which Hong Kong had often been derided as falling short or lacking). Living with my sister and maternal grandmother, I listened to the minutiae of tales told between English, Chinglish accents, and Hakka and Cantonese dialects, receding from our mother’s to her mother’s tongue. Occasionally freelancing for a couple of US newspapers, I also listened for vox pop sound-bites to furnish history-in-the-making, sentiments peppered with proverbial imagery made striking, or exotic, in translation. Back in England, the tables were turned when I met with expectations to testify to the ‘Historical Moment’; unable to reconcile the history validated in print and images, with the half-heard and unheard, semi-literate stories circulating between our three generations, my ambiguous positionings were thrown into relief: as a sister-daughter-granddaughter-resident-insider-outsider-visitor-stranger-tourist, with ancestral, familial, cultural and linguistic ties and knots.

[1] ‘DEAL,’ 198 Gallery, London, 30 June – 15 August 1998. By exhibiting at 198, established in 1988 to support the work of black artists, our presence would also be seen as an implicit or explicit challenge to the definitions, affinities and territories suggested by notions of ‘blackness.’ When Mayling To put up fake bill posters on the gallery’s outside wall, these were seen by some as an affront to the community, a form of trespass, as they (temporarily) covered up a mural work (also temporary) that the gallery had long-intended to paint over.

The above text is excerpted from the chapter, ‘Back Words’, in ‘A – Y’ (2004).