Meet Elaine Chiu, Hong Kong’s millennial ‘It’ artist: the 26-year-old celebrates her hometown’s heritage and history, capturing the city’s disappearing cultural memories amid rapid urban development
Born and raised in Hong Kong, Elaine Chiu has quickly cultivated a reputation as one of the city’s hottest new young talents, landing a spot on this year’s Forbes 30 Under 30 list in the arts section
The artist was selected to be part of Pembroke-King’s programme at the University of Cambridge and displays her work at The University Museum and Art Gallery, HKU and K11 Art Foundation
Lynn Farah+ FOLLOW Published: 9:00am, 24 May, 2023
Elaine Chiu, an up-and-coming artist in Hong Kong, pictured with one of her paintings in April. Photo: @elainechiuart/Instagram
At just 26 years old, Elaine Chiu has already cemented herself as a respected artist and advocate for the vast cultural diversity of Hong Kong.
Born and raised in the city, Chiu’s paintings and sketches depict her hometown’s cityscapes while aiming to preserve its culture and heritage by focusing themes of identity and memory.
Elaine Chiu displaying her artwork at the Hong Kong Art Gallery Association at Art Central, in May 2022. Photo: @elainechiuart/Instagram
Her work has become so impactful that Forbes recently named her in its 30 Under 30 Asia list under the arts category for her ability to capture Hong Kong’s rapid development through a creative lens.
Here’s what you need to know about the artist who is breaking barriers while ensuring that her hometown’s heritage and history are remembered.
Elaine Chiu’s childhood filled with imagination
Elaine Chiu painting in December 2022. Photo: @elainechiuart/Instagram
Chiu grew up in Yau Tsim Mong and described in an interview how her strongest memories revolved around looking for craft and art supplies in Sham Shui Po and Mong Kok. She told Hong Kong media that her primary and secondary school years were filled with having lunch at dai pai dongs and local tea houses.
Elaine Chiu with one of her urban sketches in December 2020. Photo: @elainechiuart/Instagram
In the interview, she said that when she reflects on her life in Yau Tsim Mong, she realises that it gave her an “unlimited imagination and exploration about urban visual culture, human relationships, personal emotion and memory”.
Working towards her dreams
Elaine Chiu at JPS Gallery, in May 2021. Photo: @elainechiuart/Instagram
According to her website bio, in 2013, she was part of the summer programme at the China Central Academy of Fine Arts (CAFA) in Beijing, China.
A year later, Chiu studied art history and sociology at the University of Hong Kong until 2018. During this time she was part of an exchange programme at the University of Edinburgh, and was selected to be part of Pembroke-King’s programme at the University of Cambridge.
Elaine Chiu doing a student tour at JPS Gallery, in May 2021. Photo: @elainechiuart/Instagram
She received the Talent Development Scholarship (2015) and Out Reaching Award (2016) from the Hong Kong SAR Government. Her artworks are in the permanent collections of The University Museum and Art Gallery (UMAG), HKU, K11 Art Foundation and Société Générale Hong Kong.
Hong Kong and self-identity
Elaine Chiu doing art in public in Hong Kong, in January. Photo: @elainechiuart/Instagram
Known for her Hong Kong cityscape artworks, Chiu told local media that her hometown has taught her important lessons about herself. She said that being able to paint cityscapes allows her to question “where do we come from [and] where should we go under such rapid urban development”. While researching and gaining inspiration for her art, Chiu said she realised the Hong Kong landscape formed part of her self-identity.
Shek Kip Mei Road, 石硤尾道 (2021), acrylic on canvas, 65 by 65cm, by Elaine Chiu. Photo: @elainechiuart/Instagram
Chiu explained that Hong Kong is a hybrid of many different cultural roots, mindsets and ideologies, as seen in its neon signs, typography, architecture and food. For her, painting is a soul-searching process.
Elaine Chiu doing a painting workshop at HKU, in September 2022. Photo: @elainechiuart/Instagram
In 2021, Chiu’s solo exhibition “Before Memories Expire” was held at the JPS Art Gallery. She described the project in an interview as a “baby born under the pandemic” and said Covid-19 taught her about the importance of human touch and connection. Per Hong Kong media, Chiu added that, pre-pandemic, she thought she would always have time to “go here and there”. During all of the restrictions, she used the time to think more about what she wants to say through her art.
Emphasising the beauty of Hong Kong
Elaine Chiu posing with her painting in January. Photo: @elainechiuart/Instagram
The Peak Tram, the Big Buddha and the Chi Lin Nunnery are all well-known landmarks in Hong Kong.
However, Chiu aims to illustrate the lesser-known and more intimate sides of the city. In an interview with Cantocutie, Chiu said she purposely strives to show street scenes that are disappearing because of urban redevelopment. Advocating for the memory of the “old” Hong Kong, Chiu’s artworks represent bits of older communities that have more character. She said it is this “sentiment of the city-citizen relationship” that she would want to highlight to visitors through her art.