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Kurt Tong

1977, born in Hong Kong, China

Kurt Tong graduated with a Master’s degree in documentary photography at the London College of Communication in 2006. Having grown up in the United Kingdom, his work revolves around exploring his Chinese roots, his upbringing and understanding of his motherland. Using multilayered narratives, his recent work has dealt with the Asian Diaspora, Chinese funeral practices and early Chinese feminism.

Much of Kurt’s work, whilst deeply rooted in photography, has incorporated other mediums, performative elements and audience participations. Pushing the possibility of photography as a narrative tool.

Presentation of the project "Dear Franklin"

Three years ago, Kurt Tong was given an old wooden trunk after the death of a friend’s neighbour. The outside was sealed by a taoist seal, and inside the trunk were a number of hand written letters, old photographs, numerous books from the 1920s, all belonging to a man called Franklin Lung. 

After months of research by meticulously combing through all the clues, he found out that Franklin was born into a poor family in Hong Kong just after the fall of Imperial China in 1912. Through determination, Franklin managed to attend the best university in Shanghai and he became a member of high society, who had trading links with several of the colonial occupiers. He also fell in love and got engaged to Dongyu, the daughter of a high ranking Kuomintang general. 

In 1948, tragedy struck. Dongyu was on board the SS Kiangya, packed with refugees escaping the communist army when it was sunk by an old Japanese sea mine near the mouth of the Huangpu River. Franklin was heartbroken but decided to go ahead with the wedding, marrying her in an elaborate ghost marriage ceremony, where a living person is eternally tied to a deceased person in the spirit world. Soon after the wedding, Franklin fled to Hong Kong. He briefly emigrated to the USA via the 105 annual quota after the repealed of the Chinese Exclusion Act. After several failed businesses in San Francisco, he was left penniless. At some point, he returned to Hong Kong, still stricken from grief, he committed suicide by jumping into the Victoria Harbour during Typhoon Wanda in 1962 and presumed drowned. 

Despite Franklin’s story happening in the first half the 20th century, there are very current themes running through it; Social mobility, migration and tragedy, and people risking it all for better opportunities. This body of work also examines the superstitious practices around fortune telling, conjuring and many of the less common taoists practices, and people seeking closure and escape through supernatural means.

Selected Exhibitions

2020  Combing for Ice and Jade, Esplanade, Singapore

2019  Combing for Ice and Jade, Ground Control, Les Rencontres d’Arles, Arles, France

2019  Dimensions of Family, Times Art Museum, Beijing, China

2019  Potentiality, Finnish Musuem of Photography, Helsinki, Finland

2018  The Queen, The Chairman and I, Lianzhou Photography Museum, Lianzhou China

2017  Combing for Ice and Jade, Himalayas Art Museum, Shanghai, China

2016  The Queen, The Chairman and I, Impressions Gallery, Bradford, UK

2010  In Case it Rains in Heaven, Compton Verney, Warwickshire, UK

Selected Publications

2019  The Queen, The Chairman and I, Dewi Lewis Publishing, UK

2019  Combing for Ice and Jade, Jiazazhi Press, China

2011  In Case it Rains in Heaven, Kehrer Verlag, Heidelberg, Germany