By Dawna Fung
A smallish frail man sits still in the middle of a Hong Kong studio, surrounded by several artists whose brushes sweep busily over canvas.
Albert is not your typical artists’ model. His spine is S-shaped, the lengths of his hands and feet are disproportionate, and there is a prominent lump on his top right shoulder. A long steel rod was inserted in his back after he suffered meningitis as an infant.
Yet Albert, a member of the HK Life Model Club, is proud of his body. He is one of the people featured in Our Models, an exhibition of nude studies by 20 artists.
They aim to celebrate body autonomy and self-love, expressing the view that “everyone is awesome.” Pregnant, elderly, and transgender people are among the others featured.
Chan Kung-chun, one of the artists, remembers the first time he met Albert and how conscious he was of Albert’s deformities. “But soon, when I started to concentrate and draw the outlines, I saw him objectively,” he said.
The exhibition features pictures of many different sizes, colours and types of paints — an attempt to represent openness towards diversity.
But in a socially conservative city like Hong Kong, the HK Life Model Club faced difficulties finding an exhibition venue. They were refused many times on the grounds that the theme was “sensitive”.
Displaying nude artworks does not violate any law but the club still encounters reservations about its exhibition.
“Most people think straightaway of sexual implications when they see nudity, which is not our thought,” says Liu Ngan-ling, the host and curator of the club’s show. With the artwork, Liu demonstrates that nudity can be related to body aesthetics and the relationship with nature. “Not covering my body is not shameful,” says Liu.
She advocates body autonomy and believes that everyone can have their own thoughts about an ideal body, independent from the mainstream understanding: “For instance, the ideal woman has to be white, skinny, with makeup… But body autonomy is knowing what you want for your body, not being affected by others,’ says Liu.
At the same time, the definition of an ideal body can be fluid and ever changing with time. Liu introduces Siufung, a participating model and LGBT+ advocate, who had different views about an ideal body in different periods of time.
At first, Siufung himself themselves as a trans man, then he saw himself having a mobile sexuality – recently, she thinks that she could present as female.
Liu says that it is normal if people have different thoughts about their bodies with the time changing and experience enriching, as body autonomy is a changeable concept.
Ah Yee, another nude model, used to feel dissatisfied with her skinny body. She tried to eat more to put on weight but it never seemed to work.
But she enjoyed posing for the club’s artists. Holding a pose for a lengthy period, she feels a tranquillity akin to meditation. “I love all these artworks. Some of them paint my back, some paint my side… these different angles surprise me!”
In contrast to Ah Yee, Haruyuki is well-rounded, seeing this as the ideal body shape. Every month, he spends up to half of his salary on food but still thinks he is not fat enough.
The club put portraits of Ah Yee and Haruyuki together on purpose. They intend to demonstrate different possibilities of body shapes and how people with contrasting characteristics can get along with each other.
Kathy is in her 60s and thinks this is the best moment of her life. She never uses makeup or skincare products, as she sees getting older as natural. Her optimism and confidence appear to inspire the artists, who use a wide range of bright colours to depict her.
Kathy acknowledges she is no longer young but loves her mature body. “Having wrinkles, hair turning grey, skin losing flexibility… I am glad that I have the chance to get old and experience this process!”
The exhibition runs until January 3, 2021 at 10/F, Foo Tak Building, 365 Hennessy Road, Wan Chai. Reservations have to be made via a Google form beforehand as a pandemic control measure.