One's destiny is but a karmic cycle of three previous lives. Prosperity and hardship are feeble passages. We are born into this secular world only to experience this never-ending trouble like three thousand hairs.
From Dream of the Red Chamber (18th century) by Cao Xueqin, this poem portrays the mental stage of Cao's characters, their relationships and conflicts, and pinpoints the philosophical intention of the novel – the karmic cycle of life. Using hair as a metaphor of trouble or a state of disillusion reveals a deep Buddhist sentiment where any material thoughts stem from within (our head). A full head of hair, therefore, would block our perception of the world and essentially our path to nirvana. To be a Buddhist monk, one must shave his head to maintain clarity.
In a city like Hong Kong where material and mundane matters prevail, it would take extraordinary effort to see things with such clarity and conviction. Artist Joey Leung Ka-yin is gifted with such talent. Her body of work in the past decade has demonstrated a keen observation and understanding of the world she lives in. To confront her surroundings, she chose comics over gimmick. To get her message across, she composes her own lyrics rather than borrowing from others. Her paintings are never nostalgic nor pay homage to any distinctive genres. They present the contemporary world as it is – one filled with bizarre people, peculiar episodes and sometimes wonderful chaos. When so many artists today are preoccupied with gender issues and feminist ideals, she confronts this cynical world with clever mockery through text and images.
Like a Buddhist monk, the pinpoint precision of her messages give her painting a profound substance beyond its fantasy like façade. Curiously, Leung's present exhibition, Mollywood, is about troubles and worries like the three thousand hair. But instead of shaving it off like a monk, she elaborates on these issues by piling up the hair, a lot of them, to form mountains and valleys. These hairy landscapes are metaphors of our troubled land where we can no longer avoid or simply shave off. A sense of helplessness is somewhat obvious. Yet, like the characters in the Dream of the Red Chamber, Leung sees these events as a cycle thus what goes around, comes around, whether it is prosperity or hardship.