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Unboxing the Ha Bik Chuen Archive
Unboxing the Ha Bik Chuen Archive
Video Transcript

VENNES CHENG: [Cantonese] Hello. I am Vennes Cheng, the Associate Curator of Hong Kong Visual Culture at M+.

CM YIP: [Cantonese] Hi, I am CM Yip, the Collection Archivist at M+.

VENNES CHENG: In front of us, you can see part of the Ha Bik Chuen Archive. Ha Bik Chuen is a significant modern artist in Hong Kong. His was active between the 1960s and 1980s. It was a time when [art] research was challenging and Hong Kong lacked formal art schools. So, if artists wanted to learn about artmaking what could they do? They would collect information piece by piece by themselves and compose their own collage books as a learning resource. Three institutions take care and manage the archive, M+, the University of Hong Kong, and Asia Art Archive.

CM YIP: The Ha Bik Chuen Archive at M+ contains over 200 boxes of items. It’s large in scale and we can see that Mr. Ha Bik Chuen is an organised person. According to Asia Art Archive’s records we learnt that he classified information into different categories. We’ll follow his original arrangement to preserve the integrity of the archive.

VENNES CHENG: In the M+ Collection Archives, we’ve catalogued three crucial parts from the Ha Bik Chuen Archive, one of them is falls under the category of visual research materials. The most eye-catching thing in Ha’s studio were these ‘Kodak boxes’ he used to store his visual research materials. He cut out printed materials and placed them into the boxes according to themes. For example, this box is titled ‘Chapter of Hong Kong’ , you can expect to find symbols of Hong Kong, such as a junk boats. Surprisingly, you won’t only find junk boats in Hong Kong, there are also junk boats from other places in Asia, including Japan and Southeast Asia. Ha always described his studio as a ‘thinking studio’. He would contemplate, imagine, and create artworks inside it. He grouped things which were similar yet different in the same box, so that when you look at the items inside, it will not only cue different types of inspiration, but also inform you about the relationship between Hong Kong and other places at that time.

CM YIP: When we catalogued the items, we preserved the original titles named by Ha. The titles connect these fragmented pieces of information together, and allow visitors to see how materials in ‘Chapter of Hong Kong’ are connected.

VENNES CHENG: Some boxes are about Hong Kong and Asian visual culture. For example, this box titled ‘Expo 70’ contains information related to the Osaka World Expo in 1970, and local newspaper clippings from the time. It was the first time that Hong Kong had its own pavilion in a world expo, and a publicity campaign to promote Hong Kong to the world. Another key part of the archive is modified books

VENNES CHENG: Ha re-edited existing books, or used folders to compile information of different topics. For this book titled ‘Catalogue of Characters’, you can see the laughing man painted by Chinese contemporary artist Yue Minjun on the cover. Ha collected different printed materials and created collages of various character to spark peoples imaginations. This page is an interesting example. You can see him placing a late Chinese leader next to a conductor. It could imply a certain meaning like he’s the commander and manages the overall situation.

CM YIP: These archival items have been stored in Mr. Ha’s studio for decades in an old ‘tong lau’ in To Kwa Wan. Since temperature and humidity were unstable there, some items were covered in dust, so, we’d clean them up with a brush. If the items start to break apart or stick together, we also carry out conservation treatments.

VENNES CHENG: Ha bought a camera in the early 1980s. From the 1980s to 2000, he documented openings of almost every art exhibition in Hong Kong, capturing interactions between artists. These photographic records need some special treatment from CM.

CM YIP: Correct. Ha Bik Chuen’s Archive mainly consists of paper materials. These photos are called ‘contact sheets’. After we finish cataloguing [them], we will store them in a relatively cool place to ensure their long-term preservation.

VENNES CHENG: Long-term preservation is crucial because these materials are valuable to researchers. Take this contact sheet as an example. It captures Ricky Yeung’s performance artwork in 1982 which I believe was from his early years, when he was still exploring what performance art was. 1982 was a time when Sino-British negotiations over Hong Kong had just begun. Hong Kong was in a state of unease in which people had no idea about their future. His performance art was intended to prompt viewers to think about our status at that time and in the future.

CM YIP: The Ha Bik Chuen Archive is now being catalogued and digitized. These archival materials will be made available to the public at the M+ Research Centre.

VENNES CHENG: M+ is a museum of visual culture. Visual culture encompasses not only interdisciplinary imagination, but also, objects and their relationship to the environment, climate and people of the time. Ha’s personal archive aligns with this idea offering insights into why a visual culture museum should preserve the legacy of such an exceptional artist.

Ha Bik Chuen (1925–2009) lived an unconventional artistic life. He was a self-taught artist who primarily created figurative sculptures using found objects. He also practised a unique relief printing style featuring both abstract and natural forms. An avid documenter, Ha amassed a vast archive chronicling Hong Kong’s art scene, incorporating materials that included exhibition ephemera, photographic and artwork documentation, visual research materials, periodicals, reference books, personal records, and modified books from the 1960s until the 2000s.

Ha meticulously stored, cut, arranged, rearranged, and collaged collected materials in his ‘thinking studio’ in To Kwa Wan, the top floor of a walk-up building where he had previously run his handicrafts business. After Ha’s passing in 2009, this trove of materials became a time capsule offering rare insight into Ha’s singular practice and Hong Kong’s cultural evolution.

Curator Vennes Cheng and archivist CM Yip unbox part of the Ha Bik Chuen Archive housed at M+, which includes modified books, photographic contact sheets, and research materials and ephemera that shed light on Ha Bik Chuen’s working and collecting process and the social context of art in late 20th century Hong Kong.

Video Credits

Produced by



It moves It moves


Anafelle Liu


Chan Chi Lap


Luk King Hei


Anafelle Liu

M+ Curatorial

Vennes Cheng

M+ Collection Archives

CM Yip

M+ Producer

Ling Law, Rachel Chan

M+ Text and Subtitle Editing

Amy Leung, LW Lam

Special Thanks

Ha family, Asia Art Archive, Billy Cheng, HY Cheung, Fiona Chiu, Grace Tam, Chris Sullivan, Mimi Cheung

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