As I walked out of Causeway Bay Station, I scanned nearby buildings and found the mural, printed prominently on the outer wall of the building I was looking for. The building, which houses the private humanities library "Nose in the Books", is also where I would meet the illustrator Zoie Lam Nga-yi. Zoie's hair, just like her catchy and colourful style, came in a short pink bundle. Recently, she was inspired by the vision of Nose in the Books, and decided to attend courses at the Construction Industry Council just so she could work at height and design a mural for the library.
Zoie is a fashion designer with over a decade of experience. Working under the constraints of brand and market, however, forced her to confront her own goals and ideals. Moreover, she also worked for her brother's fashion company for six years. Experience in the industry has prepared her, both practically and mentally, for her own brand of fashion and illustration. At the age of 30, she decided to embark on her own journey by founding ZL by Zlism – a brand on fashion design – and Zlism – a brand on creative illustrations.
Zoie sees ZL by Zlism as a space for her to articulate her style of fashion, free from the demands of the market. In fact, she once designed a line of clothing that could be worn upside-down reflecting her views of the circular ecosystem. Due to its complex design and cutting, this line of clothing would have been subject to revisions if it were mass produced. However, having her own brand meant that Zoie could remain loyal to her ideals for fashion. Consequently, she was invited to the fashion weeks in Berlin and the UK. In her first visit to the Berlin Fashion Week, she was heartened by the support shown by the audience and fellow designers after the show. The experience bolstered her confidence in founding her own brand and insisting upon her beliefs in design.
Inspiring Self and Others
Zoie's creativity is not limited to fashion design. In fact, drawing has always been a way for Zoie to de-stress. When she was still a full-time fashion designer, Zoie would draw on her sketch book whenever there was time to spare. Over time, she gathered enough pieces and held her first exhibition in an upstairs record store. Soon, Zoie founded her own brand – Zlism – a fantastic world of exotic planets and outer-space citizens. Zoie's adventurous illustrations are emblematic of her fearless attitude. "Sometimes, I doubt my decision to quit my job for my dream. But drawing and painting is a way to remind myself to persist." Indeed, her mural paintings are an inspiration to both herself and others.
From Sketchbook to Mural
Mural painting has a long history overseas, where the art form is seen hand in hand with art and music festivals. Big mural paintings on multi-floor buildings are common, and places such as Melbourne is well-known for its street art. In Hong Kong, street murals is also becoming more common. Recently, Zoie and other artists participated in HKWalls to create mural art along the streets of Central and Sheung Wan. Along the walls of Square Street, Zoie painted her vivid Planet Zlism and its citizens, providing a vibrant energy to passerbys. “Mural paintings can instil life for a community. When I first visited the UK, I was captivated by its colourful murals. In Hong Kong, I really want to paint on the walls of tong lau. The combination of mural art and Hong Kong culture, I think, is a great match.” This also marks the first time Zoie participated in street mural art. Compared to in-door murals, street murals involve the interaction between the painting and happenings on the streets. It is also a community art form that involves different artists, street culture, and urban forms of life.
The Many Meanings of Illustration
Illustration is an international language. Zoie is determined to tell her story through each character, choice of colour, and stroke of the brush. She believes that everyone can express himself or herself through illustration. She likes to give creative illustration classes at school, teaching students how to convert their feelings and words into pictures. Over time, even the more reserved students learn to express themselves. The addition of planets and outer-space characters into school murals is also a breath of fresh air to the campus.
From a paid employee to a freelancer, Zoie has more freedom, but must also face moments of doubt. For example, she once felt she was in a bottleneck and wanted to produce more illustrations. However, she later met a Taiwanese painter who only focused on ten paintings within two years, and came to understand that creativity is bred with ample time and space. Since then, Zoie has decided to devote more time into discovering new elements and challenges through her art work.
Zoie's endeavours have always been about giving back to the community, from creating Planet Zlism, giving art lessons, to creating murals for Nose in the Books in Hong Kong and Kid's Bookhouse in Taiwan. At the same time, she experiments with new ideas such as her own fashion brand. Indeed, life is about discovering one's calling. Zoie has treaded her own path and discovered the many possibilities along the way. Despite encountering different challenges, she has remained steadfast in her pursuit of art and its many meanings.
Nose in the Books
Nose in the Books is Hong Kong's first humanities library open for public access. It boasts a collection of more than 10,000 books in cultural studies, literature, philosophy and geography. Most of the collection is donated by Dr. Mirana May Szeto, a scholar in comparative literature who decided to pursue Buddhist studies. Her students founded Nose in the Books in hopes of passing on the torch of knowledge.
Unlike other libraries, the books in Nose in the Books are filled with notes and post-it remarks. This encourages the interaction between different readers. Moreover, in the spirit of a salon, Nose in the Books regularly invites cultural figures to share their views and understanding of daily popular culture.
3/F, 54 Yun Ping Road, Causeway Bay
Kid's Bookhouse, which originated from the Kasavakan clan in Taitung, is founded by Chen Chun-lang, also known fondly as Papa Chen. Kid's Bookhouse first began as a space for kids to play after school, but later morphed into a children-oriented community site. In 2006, the first Kid's Bookhouse was opened. Apart from accompanying his kids, Papa Chen also believed that every child should discover his or her own goals, attitude, and independent spirit. To realise the goal of autonomous growth and self-sufficiency, Kid's Bookhouses were built in different villages and various projects such as fruit jam and rice processing were initiated.