16th of December 2020- 15th of January 2021
The Art of Mahjong Craft
Karen Cheung is a self-taught illustrator in Hong Kong specializing in cultural themes. ‘Karen Aruba’ is her illustrator name. The name was inspired by the year she spent in Aruba, a Dutch Caribbean island known as ‘One Happy Island’ when she was ten to share art with creativity.Inspired by her grandfather and father with the family’s mahjong’ manufacturing factory in Hong Kong from 1963 to 2009, Karen re-designs a series of Mahjong creative artwork in collaboration with her father, craftsman Ricky Cheung, to preserve this dying art form. ‘A Mahjong Story’, is an intimate tale intricately linked with Hong Kong art and culture, showcasing traditional mahjong craftsmanship integrated with artistry.
By clicking on the photo you can see the exhibited artworks in magazine format.
Family Heritage | The Art of Mahjong Craft
Why do you have such new concept idea of setting up studio under the theme of ‘The Art of Mahjong Craft' in Hong Kong? what are the potentials and objectives?
‘Traditional Mahjong Making Process’ is listed as intangible heritage cultural item in Hong Kong with very few artisans left. While the mahjong manufacturing industry is unlikely to come alive again, we are committed to keeping this culture and family ties alive through creative art with mahjong features because of my family background.
In the last three years, my father and I worked very hard to bring many more new artistic values to traditional mahjong tiles by transforming an old product into a unique Hong Kong gift, embracing cultural sustainability while adding technology in the making process through custom designs. Gradually, we gained more recognition and appreciation from a lot of locals and foreigners as well as art organizations. But I find that there are still many differences between Hong Kong traditions and those overseas. I believe we can do more to drive mahjong craftsmanship to become a real signature of Hong Kong culture.
Finally, we are so excited to be selected and admitted into Jockey Club Creative Arts Centre (JCCAC), one of the most recognized arts centre in Hong Kong. The new studio provides a perfect setting to fulfill the gap.
Your father, Master Ricky Cheung Sing Chung is a very experienced and professional mahjong craftsman, one of the only few craftsmen left in Hong Kong. How do you plan to integrate with your father’s talents to enhance the value of mahjong craftsmanship?
We have a unique family story combining family legacy and mahjong craftsmanship – a deep story from a traditional manufacturing industry. Therefore, we hope to bring new values to today’s mahjong tiles by combining contemporary arts with technology. Recently, we have developed more new designs of different colors, illustrated patterns, design using digital print and laser-engraving technology but still keeping hand-carving mahjong features, even the mahjong workshop we’ve designed is a totally new feeling.
We wish the new studio to be engaged with local community – like educational and knowledge sharing workshops, local tour visits, people coming for a leisure activity etc. Indeed, there are many potential ideas to collaborate with different parties, including virtually to an international platform to exchange new ideas with people in different countries.
Are there new creative design or art pieces in the studio?
Yes, for the studio design, there are wood furniture and art piece integrated with new design of mahjong tiles. The trolley is the one I love the most as it provides a setting for my father to work as well as demonstrate the hand-carving mahjong in a creative yet traditional Hong Kong style.
Recently, we have a very interesting new design of mahjong theme with Greenland landscape. All illustrations are related to the nature and landscape of Greenland, such as kayaks, the Northern Lights, berries, islands and animals, while the characters are hand-carved by the craftsman, together with laser-engraved patterns, combining Chinese and Western cultures, painted in metallic colours. This is a very good example of collaboration during these unprecedented times, as a Zoom call was arranged to discuss the concept and ideas. The new studio provides the capacity to offer more custom services and designs.
In view of prolonged pandemic situation, how do you keep new ideas running in the new digital and virtual world?
We mainly use social media to share stories and it has reached far more mahjong lovers. I have spent more time to do illustration of the mahjong manufacturing story about my family members, and collected photos related to this aspect.
With more people turning to online, we’ve come across more mahjong lovers from different countries including Malaysia, Vietnam, Korea, United States, Australia, Taiwan, Greenland, United Kingdom, France, Netherlands, etc. It is very amazing experience indeed. We keep on brainstorming new ideas in collaboration with different parties. This is important to do more to preserve this dying art form.
Can you share your large mahjong art exhibition early of the year. Do you still have any plan to organize mahjong exhibition?
The ‘Travelling with Mahjong Art Exhibition’ introduced my interesting and unique family background. The previous large exhibition held earlier this year was to allow the younger generation to discover their roots via a modern exhibition of cultural artwork, with the aim to inspire them to recognize this traditional culture and continue to pass it on. We are planning to organize another mahjong themed exhibition in year end.
Which are the other previous works that extends this mix of craft and artistry? Do you consider this your unique 'voice' or artstyle?
One of the recent projects is ‘The Art of Mahjong Craft’ series. It is a new and creative design of mahjong tiles using laser-engraving technology to celebrate special occasions or simply recognizing someone important in your life. To me, mixing craft and artistry not only makes the artwork more interesting to people, but it is a great way to keep alive the old tradition of hand-carved mahjong tiles that is nearly forgotten over the world. I feel very blessed that we are now recognized as one of the unique art brands in Hong Kong by bringing higher value into traditional mahjong tiles.
Lastly, why people should buy this new art now?
Each city has so many hidden treasures in its cultural heritage, arts and craftsmanship but a lot of them are underrated or underexposed. Mahjong is a traditional tabletop game that was popular as entertainment in the old days. Although enthusiasm for this game has waned as this city modernized, we can reinvent it in another way to preserve the artistic history. We received a lot of appreciations from people. Our family story, the unique illustration and beautiful craftsmanship – these are what people value most.