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"Home of the Brave", Installation Views
Horatio Hung-Yan Law

The experience of growing up in Hong Kong has given me a layered view of my Chinese ancestry. Until 1997, Hong Kong had been a British colony for the last hundred years. Its inhabitants were mostly Chinese. It was a society of natives, sojourners, ex-patriots and refugees. Most of them still looked to China as their homeland. My idea of China was based on second-hand information passed down from my parents who escaped communist China in the 1950s. My imaginary world was filled with references to Chinese and western religions, mythologies and literature. Images and symbols, entangled and hybridized, appeared in pentimenti. My experience as an immigrant in the United States furthers that complexity. The installation, "Home of the Brave," is an excavation of this ambivalent topography of inherited memories, personal and communal identities, and multi-layers of cultural influence.

The installation involves mounting 800 gilded plastic rice bowls and a group of thrift-shop figurines that are encrusted with rice grains. The work collides common objects suggesting race, myth, pop, kitsch, with enduring elemental realities (rice, gold). The result is visually rich and emotionally ambiguous. The large, self-contained exhibition room is transformed into a temple-like environment. Glowing softly in the darkened room, hundreds of ordinary rice bowls have been gilded with luminous gold and hung on all four walls. At the room's closed end, two pedestals stand in pools of gentle light. On one, a muscular, red-painted Indian warrior plaster statuette stands in a heroic pose, left hand on a knife at its belt, right hand upraised in some sort of salute. But the figure is hard to read - it bristles with white rice kernels glued end-on, rendering the statue faceless, weird and perhaps menacing. Nearby, the holy family has been similarly treated, painted solid blue, yellow or chocolate brown, and variously covered with rice or left revealed. In the opposite corner, a standing Madonna painted in black with amber rice grains keeps vigil.

"Home of the Brave" evokes a revered and meditative space where physical and temporal distance have little value, where different religions and cultures can coexist, and everyday items can be elevated into sacred objects. It explores the resonance in past and present immigrant experience - the sense of dislocation, wonder, renewal and personal transformation - that occurs when an individual migrates from one culture to another. It also mirrors the contemporary life of the global economy - that someone in the Western world can worship with a statue of the Virgin that is made in China.


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