How Hong Kong’s Blue Lotus Gallery is exploring the city’s cultural identity

How Hong Kong’s Blue Lotus Gallery is exploring the city’s cultural identity
Source: Blue Lotus Gallery, Michael Kistler, “Rated G for Graphic"

Founded in 2007, Blue Lotus Gallery explores Hong Kong’s cultural identity through photography. The gallery has also orchestrated the debut of several artists, including Romain Jacquet-Lagreze, KC Kwan and Tugo Cheng. Visitors can find Blue Lotus tucked away in a quaint, historic neighborhood near the Man Mo temple. The gallery also offers a curated array of books and limited-edition and vintage prints.

Photography captures real moments in a city’s legacy, from its people to its landscape. It can transport viewers to the moment of the shot. Blue Lotus Gallery’s founder, Sarah Green, sat down with TMS to tell us more about her background, the gallery and its direction and how photography has guided its mission.

Early beginnings of Blue Lotus Gallery
Source: Blue Lotus Gallery

After graduating from university, Greene began her career as a shipbroker in London. She switched jobs multiple times throughout her career until landing in Hong Kong. Though management planned for Greene to move on to Shanghai, she convinced them to let her stay in the city. Seeking an opportunity to change career paths, Greene eventually placed a down payment on an industrial loft in Fotan.

“Since I was a kid, I somehow had a strong vocation to deal with objects that had a narrative attached to them,” says Greene. “Maybe I was inspired by my father, who was and still is an antique dealer. I originally thought of antiques myself, but then I discovered Fotan was housing many artist studios. So I decided it might be a better idea to exhibit their work instead since Hong Kong artists were under-represented at that time.

“Fotan was a perfect place to start,” recalls Greene. “The artist studios were near the gallery, and Fotan was a destination that attracted a lot of curious art lovers. During that time I was still earning my living as a shipbroker, so earning money wasn’t the first priority. I just wanted to learn more about the artists, their work and how to organize exhibitions.”

Why photography?

Blue Lotus Gallery - Fan Ho exhibition
Source: Blue Lotus Gallery

Photography practically fell in Greene’s lap when she met Peter Lau, the founder of Asia One, a large printing and publishing house.

“I suggested collaborating with him,” says Greene. “He had just started a vertical gallery in the stairwell of his industrial building in Chai Wan called AO Vertical. My desk was in a large photobook shop on the ground floor.”

Greene educated herself about the art medium with borrowed books from the photobook shop. She also took a summer intensive course on photography in London.

“I had already started working with Fan Ho a year prior to that, and it was the first exhibition we organized together in his new space,” says Greene. “The exhibition drew a lot of attention from press locally and internationally and over a thousand visitors from all walks of life.

“During that time, I also met a lot of photographers who were doing their press check at the printers upstairs. Like this, I met Michael Wolf. He was opening a studio in the same street, so in 2013, [ I ] became his studio manager. So you could say that photography came to find me. I was surrounded by photographers and photography.”

Fan Ho exhibition
Source: Blue Lotus Gallery

After the success of Fan Ho’s photography exhibitions, Greene decided to specialize her gallery in photography. She gravitates toward vivid projects with a strong narrative.

“I really like working with photography and photographers,” says Greene. “I never experienced it as a limitation. On the contrary, there is still so much to learn and so many interesting projects to discover and exhibit. And since the market in Hong Kong has evolved exponentially, I prefer to have a focus that is distinctively different from other galleries.”

When it comes to exploring Hong Kong’s cultural identity through photography, Greene references a quote by Fan Ho: “Photography has advantages over other art forms. The most prominent attribute is authenticity, followed by promptness, persuasiveness and popularity. As long as it’s real, its existential value is absolutely incontestable.”

In Greene’s words, “Photography is the perfect medium to capture collective memories, and the projects we show often tap into memories of heritage value.”

Blue Lotus Gallery in Sheung Wan
Source: Blue Lotus Gallery

Past work featured in the Blue Lotus Gallery includes Christopher Button’s “The Labyrinth,” which celebrates the colors of Hong Kong’s empty underground channels; Wing Shya’s “One Light, Different Reflections,” which showcases original work and fashion photography; and Greg Girard’s “HK UNSEEN,” which displays never-before-seen work.

Blue Lotus also has a local program, which tends to be heavily trafficked by art lovers, that is currently on hiatus. Now on display as a pop-up in Greene’s hometown of Ghent, Belgium, Blue Lotus’ photography exhibition introduces European viewers to what Greene calls the “visual feast” of Hong Kong. The reactions of those who have never before seen Hong Kong inspired Greene to consider a touring pop-up.

Regarding where the gallery is headed, Greene hopes to continue playing an important role in exploring Hong Kong’s complex identity through art. “This year we are working on establishing our own publishing house,” says Greene.

“Our first book should be out by the fall. And last but not least, with the end of COVID in sight, I yearn to travel and explore new horizons again. I hope to discover more exciting photographers in the region beyond Hong Kong, and in the end become not just a HK voice but a meaningful Asian voice.”

Visit Blue Lotus Gallery’s website for more information on featured artists and upcoming exhibitions.