Hong Kong’s unfamiliar tropical climate engendered fear and anxiety in the British who occupied the region after the First Opium War. The vertical segregation of Hong Kong Island was solidifed through 19th century pseudoscientifc ideas of miasma, or bad air, and diseases associated with the air in particular places, the environment, and notions of race. Acclimatisation eforts were made in tandem with the expansion of the ‘British Botanic Empire,’ a global network focused on the scientifc research of plants, which circulated not only botanic specimens but also images created for the purpose of study and control of vegetal resources.
In the particular case of Canton (Guangzhou) in Southern China, local commercial artists were commissioned to make plant paintings. Miasma, Plants, Export Paintings examines the peculiar dynamics embedded in imperialism, scientifc research, race, and the ‘right to look’ in 19th century Canton. The juxtaposition of the historical and the contemporary in the two-channel video scrutinises changes in trade and East-West cultural exchanges that have taken place over the past century.
The artists’ participation is made possible with support from the Hong Kong Arts Development Council.