Wong Wo Bik’s Daring and Beautiful Polaroids
In this post, take a closer look at the work of Wong Wo Bik, one of the artists whose Wikipedia article was improved during the recent Art+Feminism: Wikipedia Edit-a-thon on Women in Art in Asia co-organised by M+ and Asia Art Archive. In total, participants added or improved over thirty Wikipedia articles about women artists in Asia in addition to Wong. You can see a full list of outcomes on the event's results page.
Hong Kong photographer Wong Wo Bik (b. 1949) is best known for her images of architectural landmarks documenting Hong Kong’s transition from a colonial to a post-colonial city. In contrast, her instant print photography reveals lesser-known aspects of her work that are experimental, daring, female-centred, autobiographical, and at times surreal. The M+ Collections contain examples of her architectural photography, but also a large selection of these Polaroid works. These include experimental works from her student years, as well as her more mature Polaroid works from the 1980s.
Wong began her photography career in the late 1970s. Drawn to buildings facing imminent demolition, Wong’s photographs of historical architecture and other sites contain the remnants of the lives of the past occupants. Wong’s works are important in the history of Hong Kong photography, paving the way for other photography-based artists exploring avant-garde visualities such as Holly Lee and Lee Ka-sing.
In the early 1980s, after returning to Hong Kong from her studies in the United States, Wong began experimenting with Polaroid photography. An instant phenomenon that made photography more accessible, Polaroid photography was recognised by many artists for its creative potential. This was an association that Polaroid encouraged by supplying artists with cameras and film. Wong was the only artist commissioned by Polaroid in Hong Kong to publish her work in book form. In Color & Consent, Wong chose fifty of her Polaroids for publication.
Wong’s subjects in this series include herself, studio interiors, vintage fabrics, and objects from daily life. These are often juxtaposed in unexpected, unlikely, and sometimes surreal compositions. Because of the intimate and spontaneous nature of Polaroids, you are invited to view the images more closely and question the scenes and objects captured.
As a student, Wong worked closely with performance artists. Her interest in storytelling through movement is reflected in the composition of her Polaroids that defy a coherent narrative, like a ‘story half-told’. This contributes to the surreal and sometimes jarring visual qualities of these powerful works. Wong also often included herself in her Polaroids, creating a tension between her role as the subject, and her identity as the photographer.
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Image at top of post: Wong Wo Bik, Two sisters, Hong Kong, 1981, and Hung Hom Studio, Hong Kong #1, 1982, M+, Hong Kong. © Wong Wo Bik.