Hong Kong Muslims: Killing, terrorism not in Quran

by Lorie Ann Cascaro

HONG KONG — A Muslim group here wanted to clear up negative notions about Islam, responding to earlier reports on potential Islamic State terrorism threats in Hong Kong.

Joseph Yusuf Bautista, president of the Helpers of Islam Group, on Monday said killing humans and doing acts of terrorism are all against the teachings of Quran.

“We also don’t know the truth about IS,” he said, noting that whether or not the IS is being used to discriminate Islam is yet to be known.

Some news agencies reported last week that Islamic State militants allegedly targeted Muslim workers here.

A local newspaper, South China Morning Post reported an alleged missing pregnant Indonesian worker believed to join the terrorist group.

Nearly 150,000 Indonesians worked in Hong Kong, according to its Census and Statistics Department in 2012.

The group released an open letter to Hong Kong people in response to the news SCMP and other news agencies. The letter aimed “to enlighten and portray the true teachings of Islam in relation to extremism, terrorism and corruption of any kind in any form of society.”

With some 60 active members, the Muslim group is composed of “rebirths” or those who converted their religion to Islam, he said. The group’s letter requested for everyone to judge the religion by its original scriptures, adding, “There are bad apples in every basket.”

Muslim in Hong Kong Photo by Chao Cong
Joseph Yusuf Bautista (left), president of Helpers of Islam Group in Hong Kong, along with women members, speaks to Filipino journalist on March 29 at St. John’s Cathedral in Central. | Photo by Chao Cong

Regarding the alleged missing Indonesian, Bautista said it is impossible for a pregnant woman to go to a battle.

The Hong Kong Police Force said Monday it has “no specific intelligence to suggest that the city is likely to be a target of terrorism,” adding that the terrorist threat level remains at moderate. The police will monitor terrorist trends to prevent terrorist activities in the city, its public relationS office said. It added that the police will conduct regular trainings and multi-agency exercises to ensure “high level of preparedness.”

Terrorism-related acts are criminalized in Hong Kong under existing laws, the police said. Asked to respond to the alleged IS recruitment, Leung Kwok-hung, member of the Panel on Security of Hong Kong’s Legislative Council stressed on Monday the need for reliable sources.

“How can journalists know about that,” he said, adding that he did not hear any official information from the police nor security bureau.

Some 270,000 Muslims live in Hong Kong, including 140,000 Indonesians and 30,000 Chinese, according to a government factsheet on November 2014. The rest are non-Chinese born in Hong Kong, and others from South Asian, Middle Eastern and African countries, it stated. The city has five principal masjids with the biggest, Kowloon Masjid and Islamic Centre in Nathan Road, that can accommodate up to 3,500 worshippers, as stated in the factsheet.

Art Basel shows Filipino artworks at par globally 

By Lorie Ann Cascaro

HONG KONG — A red flag looks like that of a communist party at a distance. It has a sickle and, instead of a hammer, a wine glass. It was the work of London-based Filipino artist Pio Abad.

Modern and contemporary art of Art Basel Hong Kong came in different forms and concepts that without looking at the artists’ names, one would not know which country they represent.

“What makes an artwork Filipino is because the artist is Filipino,” said exhibitor Rachel Rillo at Silverlens galleries of the Philippines and Singapore that featured Abad’s works.

Art is becoming global, she said, adding that the flag was a satire and a contemporary art dialogue, along with a Hermes scarf painting of the same artist.

Silverlens also displayed the works of Filipino artists Maria Taniguchi, Leslie De Chavez, Renato Orara, Bernardo Pacquing, Gregory Halili, Patricia Perez Eustaqiuo and Frank Callaghan, and Yee I-Lann from Malaysia.

Displaying at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre on March 15-17 were over 230 galleries from 37 countries, half of which are found in Asia and the Asia-Pacific region.

Their artworks varied in sizes, from huge canvases hanging from the ceiling to small used paint tube caps scattered like dots on white walls.

Art Basel Hong Kong 2015 PHOTO BY Lorie Ann Cascaro
Pio Abad’s flag is a satire of a communist party flag, says Rachel Rillo of Silverlens. PHOTO BY Lorie Ann Cascaro

Highly conceptual

Artinformal, another gallery from the Philippines featured Nilo Ilarde’s “faulty landscape,” a collection of salvaged objects such as small paint tubes, tube caps, and brushes. On its fourth year at the international fair, the gallery  chose Ilarde because his work was “highly conceptual with a very strong statement,” said its creative director, Tina Fernandez.

Art Basel Hong Kong 2015 PHOTO BY Lorie Ann Cascaro
Nilo Ilarde’s Faulty Landscape PHOTO BY Lorie Ann Cascaro

The Drawing Room Gallery of the Philippines displayed Gaston Damag’s “Shadows of civilization,” using wooden sculptures that symbolize an Ifugao rice god called “bulol” as a proposal of art. “There’s no message at all. I don’t pretend. It’s all about art,” he explained.

The gallery tends to work with specific pool of artists, who are critical in the sense that their works are also a part of their daily life and cultural conditions, said its curator Siddharta Perez.

Art Basel Hong Kong 2015 PHOTO BY Lorie Ann Cascaro
Gaston Damag (left) says his “Shadows of Civilization” is a proposal for art. PHOTO BY Lorie Ann Cascaro

The three galleries have joined the art fair for several years and placed their artists in the map.

But, unlike Rillo, Fernandez cannot say that Filipino artists have reached global standards in terms of quality of works as they need to improve more. “Local artists should read up what’s happening around the world and attend fairs to see what’s out there,” she added.

Typical commercial art fair

On the other hand, an artist does not need to join international events to excel and be known globally, said Gaston Damag, who was on his second time to join the fair. In fact, it can be a disadvantage to be in “a typical commercial art fair,” he said.

“If you’re not careful, you can be eaten like a small piece of meat,” he said, adding that an artist has to hold a strong position to be less eaten by the commercial aspect of the fair.

Galleries from the Western countries aimed to expand their reach in the Asian region, such as the Richard Gray Gallery located in Chicago and New York.

“We made new clients each year,” said Paul Gray, one of the partners of the gallery.

Hong Kong is a sophisticated city, he said, but it does not have some of the things that make up a great art scene in Western cities. “But, it’s obvious that it’s moving in that direction,” he added.

Over 60,000 people from all over the world visited the fair.

Some 60,000 people from all over the world visited Art Basel Hong Kong this year at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre. PHOTO BY LORIE ANN CASCARO

Inkling of aesthetics

Citing that most of the visitors were widely exposed to art and galleries, Rillo said Filipino art enthusiasts do not take much to be at par as they have an inkling of aesthetics.

However, Fernandez said Filipinos need more education to have deep understanding on art, especially the people in the government to give more focus on it.

She hopes that the government will make things easy for the private sector in facilitating and building more venues for art promotion. “Just make things easy for us,” she said, adding that they are being taxed on Philippine artworks brought back from international exhibitions.

First time to see Art Basel Hong Kong, Filipino private art collector Andrew Benedicion expressed his bias with the Art Fair Philippines, a major exhibition of modern and contemporary Philippine visual art.

Although the artworks in Art Basel were nice, he said, it is “very generic looking.” The lighting in the halls were bright and the white walls of every booth drenched the entire space, creating a sense of monotony.

Benedicion likes the gritty effect of the Philippines’ fair that was held inside a carpark with darker lighting.

This also explains why he still wants to collect Filipino artworks besides being a Filipino. It is the raw and gritty feel of Philippines contemporary art that appeals to him.