With the Sun, She Quells the Night
– A Tribute to Rebecca Pan
CHAT (Centre for Heritage, Arts and Textile) is honoured to present With the Sun, She Quells the Night – A Tribute to Rebecca Pan, an exhibition on the Hong Kong cultural pioneer whose career spans across entertainment, music and art, and who continues to inspire emerging talents today.
Taking place from 10 June to 23 October 2023, the exhibition was conceived in close collaboration with the artist herself to explore the defining moments of transformation in her life and career. Bringing together archive materials from images, costume, music records, news clippings and more, the exhibition examines and reimagines the iconic star through the lens of contemporary art.
Journey through Rebecca Pan’s Star-Studded Life and Career
Starting with a large-scale installation suspended in mid-air at The Hall of The Mills, visitors will be greeted by lenticular photo portraits of Rebecca Pan’s defining moments that capture her many transformations, from a young girl to self-assured star, impressionable entertainer to original artist. At CHAT’s gallery space on the second floor, visitors will meander through exhibits that tell the story of Pan’s life and career, from portraits taken in the golden era of the 1960s at the height of her career, to the revolutionary landmark project of Pai Niang Niang – her seminal production from 1972 which is regarded as Hong Kong’s first musical in the Chinese language and which brought together the first collaboration of renowned composer Joseph Koo and lyricist James Wong.
The exhibition display and event programming also depict wider entertainment and travel cultures that shaped and were negotiated by Rebecca, including highlights of her travels to Bangkok, Tel Aviv, Phnom Penh, Singapore, Colombo, Beirut, Rotterdam, Honolulu, Taipei and West Berlin as a cabaret singer and entertainer, as well as her role in promoting Hong Kong through her international performances and events organised by the Hong Kong Tourism Association (the predecessor to Hong Kong Tourism Board).
Beneath the Glamour: Significance of Heritage Through Contemporary Art
Beyond a retrospective, the exhibition rejuvenates the many archival materials from Pan’s life through the intervention and interpretation of contemporary art. In addition to working closely with artist Enoch Cheng to shape the exhibition experience, CHAT will unveil Cheng’s large-scale commissioned film installation that reimagines Pan as the legendary White Snake from her musical production Pai Niang Niang. Archival materials from the 1972 production will be exhibited in juxtaposition with new remixed renditions of songs from the musical. Elsewhere and throughout the exhibition, previously unseen footage of Pan’s personal and professional life recorded by long-time pupil Chan Chung Ki will be displayed to animate all facets of the gleaming star. Just as Pan’s visionary musical initiatives and costumes was radical for audiences in her days, so too does CHAT forge new and exciting ways to present cultural heritage to contemporary audiences.
A tribute exhibition like no other, With the Sun, She Quells the Night not only recounts the three decades of Pan’s illustrious career but also depicts her as a multifaceted and transdisciplinary figure who is at once creative, honest, at times uncertain, but above all courageous. Considering Pan’s role in bringing Hong Kong’s music culture to the international stage as early as the late 1950s, she was a pivotal figure who cast an early transnational influence on the music and entertainment industry, and set the precedence for creating music that combines Chinese tunes with English lyrics in a blend of East-meets-West.
Rebecca’s artistic visions resonate with the founding principles and mission of CHAT and The Mills. In her letter to the Nan Fung Group, Rebecca writes, ‘Textiles are most remarkable among the various Chinese crafts. As a ground-breaking and visionary institution, The Mills brings to mind my adventurous days as a travelling singer in the 1950s and 60s, when I’d perform in qipao that daringly merged Chinese elements with Western silhouettes. This inventive and Hong Kong spirit was further carried on to the costume designs of my first musical, Pai Niang Niang.’ As a transdisciplinary museum for heritage and the arts, CHAT puts into dialogue the past and present to engage visitors, in particular younger generations, with heritage through celebrating this unique cultural pioneer.
Other must-see events happening during the exhibition period include a community performative experience titled Paddle Forward: Dragon Boating with Pai Niang Niang to bring the works on display to life.
Wang Weiwei and Bruce Li, the co-curators of the exhibition, remark, ‘With the Sun, She Quells the Night turns towards Rebecca, her musical journey and works for inspiration and imagination once again: How can we navigate our circumstances with similar dynamism, grace and tenacity to become the best version of ourselves? We hope the cross-disciplinary nature of the exhibition affords you much expansive thought, reflection and dialogue – there is yet more to hear and learn from our dearest star, Ms Rebecca Pan.’
During the preparation of the exhibition, Rebecca Pan continues to encourage and support the CHAT curatorial team and artists, and strives to remain in dialogue with younger generations. ‘Throughout the years, I have had the fortune to meet and become friends with many 30-year-old youngsters at the prime of their lives. Many of the curatorial team members and the audiences of CHAT are also at that wonderful stage in life. To you all, I wish for you to not think of the elderly as antiquated, unfashionable and unable to adapt. Classical music, literature, theatre and the arts from the past are things to be cultivated over time, but may be difficult to grasp at first. In this light, I welcome our coming together to forge new, innovative paths.