Situated on the hilltop of New Asia College at CUHK, the Department of Fine Arts is like a magnificent tree planted by dedicated art educators. With the concerted efforts of its members, the Department continues to flourish and adds impressive rings of growth to its life story.
The epic journey of setting up a tertiary fine arts programme in Hong Kong 60 years ago might have seemed extremely challenging. However, just like any other master plan, it all started with a simple vision.
Starting with a Vision
In the mid-twentieth century, Dr. Ch’ien Mu and a group of scholars from mainland China set up New Asia College in Hong Kong. During its early years, the College offered courses in Arts, History, Philosophy and Business. However, Dr. Ch’ien believed that tertiary education would not be complete without a comprehensive programme in Fine Arts.
To realize his vision, Dr. Ch’ien invited renowned artists Mr. Chen Shih-wen① and Mr. Ding Yanyong② to establish a two-year post-secondary Fine Arts programme for the College. Mr. Chen was a master of oil painting who had studied Western art in France, while Mr. Ding was a Japanese-educated artist specialized in ink-wash painting. The programme was the first of its kind in Hong Kong in 1957 and developed into a four-year programme two years later.
In 1963, New Asia College joined CUHK as one of its constituent Colleges. The Fine Arts programme was then officially offered as an undergraduate programme by the Department of Fine Arts at CUHK. Mr. Chen and Mr. Ding continued to teach in the University until 1972 and 1978, respectively. Among their students were Prof. Li Tung-keung John, Prof. Lee Yun-woon and Prof. Kao Mayching③ who later served the Department as faculty members or chairs. Prof. Kao had also served as director of the Art Gallery of the Institute of Chinese Studies for 18 years.
The Department of Fine Arts carries a special mission to promote the study of Chinese art and culture and the exchange of Chinese and Western art with dual emphasis on studio practice and art theories. The ultimate objective is to lead students to the true values of art, namely, the true, the good and the beautiful.
‘Over the past 60 years, our Fine Arts students not only learned about theories and skills, but have also cultivated integrity, conscientiousness and kindness, so that their research or artworks can achieve the highest artistic value,’ Chair of the Department Prof. Harold K.L. Mok④ remarked.
A Thriving Department
To the president of the Alumni Association of Fine Arts at CUHK (AAFA), Mr. Lo Kwan-chi⑤, the Fine Arts alumni would not have achieved their present levels of success without the tremendous support and guidance offered by their teachers.
The Department has become the alma mater of many renowned artists, scholars, art administrators, and art therapists in Hong Kong. They include Prof. Chan Yuk-keung⑥, scholar of media and public art and a faculty member (1989–2016); Dr. Ho Siu-kee, Associate Professor of the Department and Dr. Lesley Lau, Head of the Art Promotion Office of the Leisure and Cultural Services Department.
Some alumni have embarked on a journey in performing arts and made remarkable achievements. Among them are Mr. Yeung Chun-kong Daniel, a six-time award-winner of the Hong Kong Dance Awards, who was also nominated ‘The Choreographer to Look At’ by the Ballet Tanz yearbook in Europe in 2002; and Mr. Adam Wong⑦, director of Way We Dance and winner of the Best New Director at the 33rd Hong Kong Film Award.
Prof. Jao Tsung-i⑧, an internationally acclaimed literati-scholar, is one of the influential teachers who have inspired generations of Fine Arts students. He taught at New Asia College as early as 1952 and has supervised numerous research students in the Department. As a token of gratitude to Professor Jao and a celebratory event of the Department’s 60th anniversary, the Department and the Art Museum at CUHK co-organized an exhibition entitled ‘Enduring Presence: The Art of Professor Jao Tsung-i in the Collection of the Department of Fine Arts and Art Museum’. A series of public lectures by Professor Mok and Associate Professor Tong Kam-tang were also offered to introduce the art and visions of this versatile scholar.
Apart from the close relationship between teachers and students, the Fine Arts alumni have also created a very strong bond among themselves. In 1982, the Alumni Association was established, with its members residing in various parts of the world.
‘The AAFA serves as an important platform for alumni members to develop their personal and career networks, as well as to gather the latest information on the local and global art scene,’ Mr. Lo said.
Blossoming into Success
AAFA members have worked as an efficient and experienced curatorial team for presenting alumni art exhibitions. However, the recent exhibition to celebrate the Department’s 60th anniversary and AAFA’s 35th anniversary has posed unprecedented challenges for Ms. Kwok Yuk-mei⑨, Chair of the Exhibition’s Organizing Committee.
‘Exhibition venues were in high demand and we had a very tight schedule. The event featured more than a hundred exhibits this year, the largest amount thus far, spanning across a variety of art media including painting, calligraphy, photography, sculpture and ceramics. Apart from inviting teachers and alumni to submit their artworks, committee members also had to borrow from various units the paintings of Mr. Chen Shih-wen, as well as artworks of many former teachers.’
With the untiring efforts of alumni and faculty members, the large-scale Exhibition was concluded with tremendous success on 23 February. Some alumni contributed their artworks while others, including local artist Mr. Lam Tung-pang and young alumna Ms. Chan Sui-ying, contributed articles to the exhibition catalogue.
An Abundant Harvest
Other than public lectures and exhibitions, the Fine Arts Department has been looking for more opportunities to engage the public in the sharing and appreciation of art. Earlier this year, undergraduate students were invited to design the exterior walls of several convenient stores located in various districts in Hong Kong. In each of their artworks, the students portrayed different local communities with distinctive imagination and personal memories, which attracted the passersby to stop and appreciate these pieces of artistic creations in the midst of their busy urban lives.
In a society with rapid transformation and intense competition, the teachers, students and alumni of Fine Arts at CUHK strive to uphold their passion for art and creativity. Ms. Kwok Yuk-mei, an alumna, said, ‘if you are an art lover, then art will naturally play the most important and intimate part of your life. Despite your busy schedule, you will always find time to be with her.’
One can never underestimate the immense power generated from a simple vision. From the year 1957 until today, the passion for art and education shared by members of the Fine Arts Department continues to motivate them, as they reap the harvest of teaching and research excellence of the past six decades.
This article was originally published in No. 496, Newsletter in Apr 2017.