A Building Of Stories

A Building Of Stories

The Main Building is not just a place of study but a setting in film and literature, giving it an extra layer of interest for Arts students.

Connie Lam graduated in 1996 with a double major in Comparative Literature and Fine Arts, and she remembers sitting around a courtyard lily pond with her friends, comparing it to the version described by author Eileen Chang in her writing.

Connie Lam

“We talked about her description and the only [difference] was there were not so many water lilies. We also used to wonder if there were still fish in there,” she says.

“There are not many universities that have novels and movies made about them.” Ann Hui, Mabel Cheung Yuen-ting and Ang Lee have also used the Main Building in their films.

The history and architecture of the building are also a point of interest for Fine Arts students who would otherwise struggle to see examples of colonial style, which drew on the European styles of the past, in Hong Kong.

“I remember in our first year studying ionic and Corinthian columns. Instead of looking at the slides, our professor pointed them out in the Main Building.

“We could understand them almost immediately. It’s a place that’s so artsy, so artistic. You need a place with that ambience to study art history.”

You also need a place to hang out with fellow students and Ms Lam found that in Room 239, a shabby but comfortable room with long tables instead of desks and a sink that indicated it may have been used for painting classes in the past.

A Building Of Stories

“There were not many of us in Fine Arts, only 20-something classmates. We were very tight. We liked to spend time in Room 239, having a giggle, sharing, sometimes staying there until 11 o’clock at night. There was a telephone there, I think for emergencies, but sometimes we could call that number to see if our friends were there. We treated it like a home,” she says.

The people in that memorable home have also lingered in Ms Lam’s memory. Mr Yan, the office clerk, would come to students’ rescue when they struggled with slide projectors and all kinds of other problems. The Indian art lecturer had long before also been her English teacher in Form 1 at secondary school.

Visiting lecturers provided eye-opening perspectives on Chinese and Japanese art, and a visiting US professor allowed her to make a video for an assignment rather than write a report, a highly unusual opportunity at the time. Ms Lam says all of these things have been useful in her career (she is now Executive Director of the Hong Kong Arts Centre).

“My arts education has been really important first because it helped me to develop a certain sense of visual literacy, and second because it was an alternative way to know the world. Art is related to history and how the world changes. Whenever it changes, it affects the arts.”

Art of a certain time can also connect one to the past, a feeling that still washes over her when she returns to the Main Building. “When you are inside the building, it seems you are seeing the history of Hong Kong also. There are not many places that give you this sense,” she says. “You can lose yourself there for just a moment and feel the past.”

Ms Connie Lam graduated from the University of Hong Kong with a degree in Fine Arts and Comparative Literature in 1996. She joined the Hong Kong Arts Centre (HKAC) in 1997 and has been its Executive Director since 2009. She currently chairs the Hong Kong Arts Administrators Association and is the executive producer of “Big Blue Lake” (2011), the first feature film produced independently by HKAC, as well as a huge devotee of the promotion of public art and local comics in the Hong Kong community and beyond.