feature stories

Weaving Hong Kong’s Past, Present and Future

Since its opening in March 2019, the Centre for Heritage, Arts and Textile (CHAT), located in a former cotton spinning mill in Tsuen Wan, has received a steady stream of visitors interested in the legacy of Hong Kong’s textile industry as well as the new conversations that are emerging from this history. Among the visitors are former textile workers keen to revisit the places they’ve worked in and to pass on their histories to younger generations.

“We see moving moments when a grandma is talking to her granddaughter — they’re like our own ambassadors and docents talking to the visitors,” said Chin Chin Teoh, the co-director of CHAT. “The public’s reaction has been great and a lot of visitors include people from the neighbourhood, ex-textile workers, people from all walks of life.”

Perhaps this is not surprising. In the 1950s and 1960s, Hong Kong was one of the world’s textile powerhouses and it might be challenging to find a Hong Kong family whose history was not touched by the industry. And although that time has now passed, there is now a focus on the future and CHAT serves to “represent a new place for new beginnings in the next phase of Hong Kong and Asia’s textile arts and innovation.” The non-profit centre is part of The Mills heritage conservation project, which has revitalised the former cotton spinning mills of Nan Fung Textiles. CHAT’s opening programmes include the exhibitions Welcome to the Spinning Factory! which features more than 100 historical exhibits and is presented by Turner Prize winning architect collective Assemble and design firm HATO, as well as Unfolding: Fabrics of Our Life which features the work of 17 contemporary artists from 12 countries.

Norberto Roldan, Incantations in the land of virgins, monsters, sorcerers and angry gods, 1999-2019

CHAT has an in-house curatorial team that sources workshops and exhibitions for three different seasons, in addition to a permanent exhibition: the Spring show tends to be a group show, Summer tends to showcase a solo artist with strong community skills with an even greater emphasis on co-making and co-learning given that it is the summer holidays, and Winter is often focused on the topics of design an innovation. Both local artists and overseas artists that fit with CHAT’s mission are part of CHAT’s exhibits.