Having a dialogue with the community through illustration

28 Apr 2023

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Ms Pat Wong, Assistant Professor, Academy of Visual Arts


At the peak of the pandemic four years ago,  Ms Pat Wong, Assistant Professor of Academy of Visual Art (AVA), got herself out of bed at 5am, took a 40-minute train ride alone to the largest inland fish market in the UK, the Billingsgate Market at Canary Wharf, and started sketching away. And this she did for three years straight.  What started as something personal, to observe and document the sights and scenes of the fishmongers and the fish market before they were relocated due to urban redevelopment, turned into a much lauded community project, the Barter Archive,  which won the hearts of the public and the British arts scene.

Flash back to 2019, Pat had moved to London to pursue a Master of Arts in Illustration at the Royal College of Art. To some, this move may have seemed counter-intuitive, for Pat has already made a name for herself as a commercially successful and talented illustrator (aka Flyingpig), with book contracts and corporate collaborations under her name. Yet, the gnawing feeling that she was repeating herself in her work crept up on her and she knew it was time to do something different.

The Barter Archive The Barter Archive
Pat’s work from the Barter Archive


From Kingston to AVA

The Barter Archive, having garnered much media attention, industry awards and funding, opened doors for Pat who went on to teach at the Kingston School of Art and the Royal College of Art upon her Master’s degree graduation. That is until 2022. Armed with a thought, “Why not Hong Kong?”, she decided to come home in 2022 and joined AVA.

“The fact that illustration is an art discipline in itself at HKBU is already a bold statement. What I love even more about AVA and my role here, is we do so much more than teaching art; AVA encourages its faculty and students to have a dialogue with the community, show them our empathy and get up close with our objects. I used to focus on the outcome of my work. Now, my focus has shifted to also making sure that I enjoy the process and empower my students along the way.”

Since joining AVA, Pat has devoted herself to sharing her experience and skills with her students. “My first advice to students is that while having a passion for what you do is important, you must be committed enough and hone not just your artistic skills but also your problem-solving skills.  

“Second, find your unique voice and tell your story through your work. And to tell interesting stories, don’t limit yourself to just illustration. Equip yourself with more than one skill, look for opportunities to collaborate with other disciplines and experiment with different art forms, be it design, documentary or film making and editing,” she says.

In order to increase the visibility for her students’ work, Pat has gone the extra mile to create an AVA illustration community on Instagram called spread_pages. In an upcoming collaboration with Hong Kong Shifts, a social impact storytelling platform, students will get to introduce social context into their work, as they re-interpret the stories of the shift workers and create a series of comics based on their engaging stories. Other projects in the pipeline include student projects with the Asia Art Archive and some local art spaces.

Pat sketching at Pang Jai Pat sketching at Pang Jai
Pat sketching at Pang Jai


Next destination: heritage preservation

The next stop for Pat will be an exhibition that showcases everything she treasures about her hometown. In September, she will host a show that revisits all her work, including the sketches and paintings from her days at Pang Jai (aka the fabric market in Sham Shui Po), which closed in January due to urban redevelopment in the area.

“I will be working with Kachi Chan, a digital architectural artist, on a digital humanities project that explores and preserves the spatial, historical and cultural aspects of Hong Kong’s heritage online. This involves archiving the information about the old shops in Hong Kong through 3-D scanning. Based on the data collected, we will create a virtual archive and a performative physical exhibition.

“To prepare for this upcoming project, I revisited all the places where I did my sketches over the past 10 years. I was really moved to see my paintings still hanging at the entrance of many of the shops after all these years.”

Pat shares one last anecdote about a journey she made on a bus, not just any bus but one driven by her father, a bus driver, when she was a child.  For Pat, this free bus ride along Ap Liu Street in Sham Shui Po would always serve as a reminder of the grassroot community she came to befriend and champion throughout her creative and teaching career.