Pride of Place: A series in which teaching staff and students from the English Department reflect on a place in Hong Kong. [Read all entries.] [Revisit the “Pet Sounds” series.] [Revisit the “Headspace” series.] [Revisit the “Ongoing” series.] [Revisit the “Interrogative” series.]
In 2007, Victoria Prison was opened to visitors for the first time since it was decommissioned the previous year.
My mother took me to the exhibition there. One of the art installations, “The Space of Prison”, haunted me as a kid – with baby’s heads randomly placed in a prison cell. I kept imagining what the prisoners would be going through – the paranoia, the guilt, the discomfort etc.
Ten years later, I returned to the buildings when they were being renovated as part of the Tai Kwun project. They all look much cleaner and brighter, with the walls painted white. No more scary baby heads but nostalgic arts to bring back the old Hong Kong vibe. It has become one of the city’s hottest spots.
Renovating the place gives a new meaning to the once-restricted prison. The building in the photo used to be the registration hall for new prisoners. Its facade has now become the canvas for “Hard Stones, Soft Earth” (2018) by Lawrence Weiner. It emphasises the “hardware”—institutions and bricks—and the “software”—memories and history—of the prison. Indeed, the only way to transcend this place with a new identity is not by covering up the horror and pain it has seen but by acknowledging it.
I no longer run away from the haunting memory of this place. I have learnt to appreciate the history underneath the plaster and not to take everything I see for granted.
Cecilia Lee is a graduate of the Department of English Language and Literature (Class of 2018). [Read all entries by or about Cecilia here.]