Howie Tsui’s “Retainers of Anarchy (2017)” makes its United States debut at The John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art. The exhibition will open March 15 and run through June 14 in the museum’s Keith D. and Linda L. Monda Gallery for Contemporary Art. “Retainers of Anarchy” is a monumental 25 meter-long projection with sound created from the digitization and animation of hundreds of ink drawings. The work draws from literary and artistic genres of the Song dynasty (960–1279 CE), but undermines its idealized portraiture of social cohesion by setting the narrative in Kowloon’s notorious Walled City — an ungoverned tenement of disenfranchised refugees in Hong Kong, which was demolished in 1994. The animation pictorially references major works of Chinese art, scenes from historic stories and modern life within parallel universes.
The work considers wuxia as a narrative tool for dissidence and resistance. Wuxia, a traditional form of martial arts literature that expanded into 20th century popular film and television, was created out of narratives and characters often from lower social classes that uphold chivalric ideals against oppressive forces during unstable times. The People’s Republic of China placed wuxia under heavy censorship for fear of arousing anti-government sentiment. However, practitioners advanced the form in Hong Kong making it one of the most popular genres of Chinese fiction. By representing a number of Hong Kong’s current political activists in this work, Tsui pays tribute to wuxia characters, who are also often persecuted for their activism.
Howie Tsui (Tsui Ho Yan) was born in Hong Kong, raised in Nigeria and Canada. His work was included in solo and group exhibitions internationally, including the Vancouver Art Gallery, Canada; OCAT Xi’an Museum, China; Para Site, Hong Kong; Asian Art Museum of San Francisco; National Gallery of Canada; Art Labor, China; Ikkan Art Gallery, Singapore, among others. Tsui’s work is in the public collections of the National Gallery of Canada, Vancouver Art Gallery, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Canada Council Art Bank, Ottawa Art Gallery, City of Ottawa, Global Affairs Canada, Centre d’exposition de Baie-Saint-Paul and M+ Museum of Visual Culture.