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‘We need to develop our own culture’

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image Alice Kok on TDM Talk Show

Macau is taking the right steps to revitalise its cultural scene, but needs to pick up the pace in order to effectively achieve the desired goal. “It’s time for us to be daring if we really want to develop our art scene and creative industries,” said Alice Kok on last weekend’s TDM Talk Show.
A Macau born French-educated award winning artist, Alice believes the SAR has to invest more to foster local talents.
“I see students that don’t have any initiative because schools don’t promote that,” she said.
“Our future depends on these youngsters being able to think creatively and take initiative,” Alice stressed.
The artist, who also teaches art at local universities, said she’s concerned about art education in the territory.
“Many people wrongly think that by being an artist you won’t be able to earn money or find a job. What they don’t think is that being an artist is a job in itself,” said Alice.
This mindset causes students to be formed as ‘students to teach art’, she said.
“We still don’t have a very professional arts education programme in Macau, purely dedicated to form artists.”

Challenges to overcome

Alice Kok returned to Macau around four years ago, after receiving her master degree in France, where she could have pursued an artistic career. “For me art is not just a career, its part of my life and everything I feel,” she said.
“In France I was not very satisfied with the very professional environment which is quite rigid. To achieve success you have to follow a lot of protocols in terms of your artwork,” she explained. “For me it is something not acceptable at all.”
Even though the situation is different in Macau, there are other challenges to overcome.
“The main concern for Macau artists is having time to work only as an artist and make a living out of it,” she said.
“When I came back to Macau, there were not enough channels or ways here that I could choose to be completely independent [as an artist].”
“I had to find a job to support my training and art, and I decided to focus on education and media,” she added.
“For many artists in Macau the only way is to take a job to have a stable income. […] Many end up without time to work on their own projects.”
The government has promised to promote the cultural sector by supporting creative industries.
“If we want to maintain a high reputation in terms of cultural context in Macau, which is very rich, we need to really think of other industries aside from the gaming sector,” Alice added.
Culture could be a way to attract more tourists “because it’s a highly appreciated value”. “We need to develop our own culture,” she said.
According to the artist, more steps need to be taken soon.
“They’ve been promising for some years now, and there are no doubts that some people are becoming sceptical about this [creative industries] project,” she said.

Self-censorship


While in China there are limits to the free expression of artists, as the recent case of Ai Weiwei showed, “in Macau there is a different kind of censorship,” said Alice.
The artist explained how she undertook a project about Tibet, a very sensitive subject. “Even though my approach was not political, but in terms of artistic and humanistic consideration, I was faced with some self-censorship.
“Without any interference from higher authorities, I kept thinking how sensitive the project was,” she said.
Although she says her work is not influenced, Alice believes self-censorship “is common here because we [Macau] have a reputation of keeping a low-profile and loving the country”.
“We are a bit shy in terms of expression,” said Alice.
Recently returned from the Venice Biennale, the artist said Macau should change the way it chooses artworks for the international event. “Since we have a theme that is set from the beginning it lacks a bit of individual strength from the artist,” she explained, adding it becomes a kind of exercise, without “much free creativity”.
“We should really seriously consider trusting the artist or curators to establish another way of idealising the whole project,” she stressed.

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