Workshops, films, panels and parties abound at Women's Festival 2019, a celebration of the ladies of Hong Kong (and beyond) and their ability to do whatever the hell they want
There are some pretty fierce women doing great things across this city of ours. From the ladies of Hong Kong Roller Derby to artists like Kylie Chan and Isatisse, and mental health advocates like Coco Chan. Adding to the bad-assness is Eaton HK’s Director of Culture Chantal Wong, part of the trio behind Women’s Festival 2019. We sat down with her to talk about what’s in store for this year’s festival, how the current political landscape has affected programming and creating communities in Hong Kong.
Hi, Chantal. Thanks for taking the time to chat with us. Firstly, can you tell us a bit about your background and your role as Director of Culture at Eaton HK?
Yeah, so I studied contemporary art, and I used to work at the Asia Art Archive for 12 years. Then, I also set up a non-profit art space called Things that can Happen in 2015 as a response to the Umbrella Movement. Even the naming of that was full of hope and it was like, in a city where people were feeling increasingly oppressed, we wanted to work with artists to reconnect art back to society.
I also run an NGO that provides scholarships for Asylum Seekers and Refugees in Hong Kong. And all of this feeds into my role as Director of Culture at Eaton HK, as I have both creative and social/community experience.
We’re looking forward to the second iteration of Women’s Festival in Hong Kong. What were your biggest learnings from the inaugural event last year?
Last year, was the first event, and we had no idea how it was going to go. A lot of what we did was based on intuition, and one of the things that came out of that is that Sonia Wong (founder of Reel Women Hong Kong), Vera Lui (founder of Sally Coco) and I have become so close. We spent a lot of time brainstorming, and we had so many great ideas that we had to kind of trim it down – we wanted swinging orgies and stuff, but realised we couldn’t logistically do that (laughs). So the biggest thing is that we’ve learned to work really well together. And that’s really the nicest takeaway, as I can see us working together for a very long time.
We really didn’t know what to expect last year, and the things that we thought might be quite sensitive actually had a huge demand. Things about sexuality, fertility and the things in society that are not openly talked about were quite popular.
This year, we’ve been way more bold with our programme, so the theme is ‘I am a __________ woman’, and each day of the six days of key programming has a different word that fills in that blank: Nasty, Hairy, Extra Large, Divine, Alien, Failed.
It’s inspired by Hilary Clinton’s “I am a nasty woman” quote, and the idea of reclaiming negative language. Recently, in Hong Kong during the protests, the cops have been calling people ‘自由閪’ which basically translates to ‘freedom cunts’ which is super sexist, but we’re trying to reclaim that language. I think, in such charged times, that’s really important.
We know that often when you’re organising something like this you secretly have a few workshops or panels that you’re secretly really looking forward too. Can you share a few of yours with us?
I think Religious Women: An inter-faith conversation is going to be a good one. We were trying to talk about relationships at that point, and we couldn’t understand what it would be like to commit yourself to being single. I consider myself to be very progressive and I know a lot of progressive people, but I couldn’t think of one person who had committed themselves to being single for the rest of their life as a choice. And then we thought about people of faith, so I’m really curious to learn more there.
The prenup writing workshop is pretty cool too because who knows how to write up their own prenup?! Also, we’re having an exhibition called Yummy Gummy at Tomorrow Maybe with 7-8 artists that I’m really looking forward to. There’s just so much good stuff going on this year!
While a lot of your programming is in Cantonese to ensure you reach the local community, can you give us a heads up on some workshops suitable for any English speakers keen to join?
Yeah, so most of the films are subtitled and some of the panels are translated into English too. For example, Katherine Lo’s (founder of Eaton HK) panel May your Queendom Come: Women Claiming Revolutions, features Poya Miao, an LGBT activist and Taiwan city councillor, so that will be translated between Mandarin, Cantonese and Chinese.
The Drag Jamming is organised by a predominantly English organisation and is going to be fun, plus Larger than Life Filipino Women hopes to break down the stereotype that many people have of Filipino women in Hong Kong. And there’s lots more!
Obviously Eaton HK as a venue is really important to the festival. Tell me a little bit about what it’s like to have a space like this in Hong Kong.
When Eaton brought me on back in 2017, we had a meeting with different people in the community who we hoped to work with to create events for the people, and one of those people was Vera Lui from Sally Coco. She was the one who mentioned that she’d always wanted to do a Women’s Festival in Hong Kong, so it was serendipitous that we could then provide the space to make that happen.
I mean there’s physical space, but then there’s also the people that support that space, and the operations team really goes above and beyond for all of these non-profit programmes. It just seems like this perfect thing, where all these amazing women come together and use Eaton HK as a platform to allow people to be super creative and create these inspiring things for the community.
Speaking of community, it’s great that a percentage of ticket sales from the Women’s Festival 2019 is going to Rainlily, a sexual violence crisis centre in Hong Kong. How did you choose that charity to give back to?
Not only does Rainlily provide support for women post abuse, it also does a lot of important preventative and empowerment work beforehand, and we just think it’s a really important organisation.
And just to finish off, what do you hope people will take away from Women’s Festival 2019?
Even though we deal with many serious and heavy topics at the festival, and many of them are very serious, we want to create a supportive community where people feel like they’re not alone, and I think that we’ve done that.
And of course we want people to have fun; I mean the closing party is a roller disco with Madame Quad and Mean Gurls Club!
Women’s Festival 2019 runs from 23 August-1 September at Eaton HK