Avatars of Entombment

An inquiry into the lineages of gaudy spectacles built to extol rulers

Story by
Howie Tsui
March 1, 2023

Howie was asked if he knows any artist that might relate to the theme on ceremonial deaths. He told me about his new body of work, Avatars of Entombment. We didn’t spend much time remarking on the serendipitous nature of our conversation. It remarkably just was. He blesses our cover with his artistic gifts and we are honoured.

Avatars of Entombment is a new body of paper-based works of scholar rocks entwined with constrictive cangue structures. Within these forms are fading vernacular motifs of Hong Kong’s past along with a cast of contorted figures. These captives, ensnared/entombed within stones, express the claustrophobia felt by Hong Kong diaspora – a community hemmed in by the tentacles of extraterritorial authoritarianism and random violent outbursts of anti-Asian hate.

These conjoined forms began appearing after I visited the Tomb of the Terracotta Warriors in Xi’an. Onsite, I was drawn to fragmented soldiers fused into the earth awaiting excavation and restoration. This experience, surrounded by the shattered avatars of an ancient emperor’s army prompted an inquiry into the lineages of gaudy spectacles built to extol rulers.

My derisive figures reappropriate problematic caricatures of early immigrant labourers as depicted in xenophobic print media at the turn of the 19th century. The exaggerated character design compels viewers to confront the harm that these comic portrayals have caused by entrenching stereotypes that endanger Chinese communities. The conditions of subservience and subjugation are echoed in the figures through their queue hairstyle – a mandatory requirement imposed by the Qing dynasty upon its subjects.

The wooden frames weaving through these works conflate archaic structures of punishment and humiliation with its cyber-based analogues. As a response to the mounting suppression of voice, these restrictive structures embody psychic confinement and the anxiety of persecution. From the psychological to the anatomical, a paranoia-induced spiral ushered the works towards the dark practice of dissident organ harvesting – which manifest as fleshy cross-sectional portals.

sous vide prayer beads
amidst the literati crush
of auction house rocks

these cangues kid
these facial recs
caught me jaywalking
talking shit online
RGB cycles in an OLED glow

now a totem of public shame
interlocked with stocks
forehead shaven

and pressed like aburi
against our inherited tong lau
                             in Mongkok

opera mask off
with AI behind
innards and gizzards harvested
implanted into the autocrat
and his melange of
hodge podge viscera


Howie Tsui