Acclaimed North East calligrapher Dr Manny Ling is going back to his roots to stage the largest exhibition of his work in Hong Kong.
‘Crossing Boundaries’ will feature up to 40 pieces dealing with cross-cultural practices drawing on influences in Manny’s life from Western calligraphy to East Asian traditions. His artwork also draws on both his work as a graphic designer and typographer, working with letterforms, digital media and hand-made.
Manny, who is programme leader for MA Design and also teaches on the BA (Hons) Graphic Design programme at the University of Sunderland, will stage his two month-long exhibition in April at the prestigious Hong Kong University of Science and Technology.
While there, Manny will deliver calligraphy workshops, demonstrations and lectures. Invited guests to the launch of his exhibition will include students and staffs from the University of Sunderland’s very own Hong Kong Campus, as well as our partner college – Hong Kong College of Technology.
Manny explained: “Being a Chinese person practising Western art and design has had a profound influence on my life. I am fascinated by the theme of crossing boundaries in my work: from the handmade and digital, east meets west, old and new, energy and stillness.
“This will be one of the biggest solo exhibitions I have ever staged and is very personal. It’s very exciting to be invited to showcase my work in the place where I was born and revisiting my heritage. Even though I have lived most of my life in England, I still have this sense of cultural identity, which is reflected in my practice.”
For his exhibition ranging from small to very large sized pieces, Manny will be using traditional oriental materials – Chinese inks and sticks and Xuan paper to create the background, then using western calligraphy pens to produce the writing.
“The background is very Oriental and the calligraphy is Western. This mix is interesting and reflects how my own technique has changed over the last five years. It’s quite a complicated process as each piece would take up to three days to complete and there’s a special way to mount the work.”
Steven Ng, Acting Director at Sunderland’s Hong Kong Campus, who will attend the exhibition launch, said: “Congratulations to Dr Ling for his month-long exhibition at the prestigious Hong Kong University of Science and Technology. It is a unique, as well as the largest, exhibition of his work in Hong Kong.
“Chinese calligraphy has a history of over 2,000 years. It is globally recognised as one the five quintessential forms of the time-honoured Chinese culture, with the other four being Chinese painting, Chinese medicine, Chinese martial arts, and, of course, Chinese cuisine.
“Dr Ling demonstrates his unique technique by adopting an oriental background to perform western calligraphy and we are so honoured to have him exhibit his masterpieces in the place where he was born.”
Manny has made it his mission over the last 19 years to create a hub for the traditional letter-making skills of calligraphy on Wearside, establishing the International Research Centre for Calligraphy (IRCC) at Sunderland. He has also launched a popular graphic design course in his native Hong Kong.
Having emigrated with his family to the North East from China 42 years ago, Manny believes Sunderland has now firmly established itself as an international centre for calligraphy.
He said: “We developed the IRCC at the University and since 1999 we have been hosting regular international calligraphy conferences, attracting calligraphers and academics from across the world, coming to Sunderland for master classes, as well as lectures and seminars to discuss the serious issues surrounding the art.
“As a result of our efforts, Sunderland is now perceived globally as the centre for calligraphy development.”
However, he believes it’s no coincidence that the city and university have become such a calligraphy hotspot.
“You only have to look back at Sunderland’s history at St Peter’s and the writings of the monastic scholar Venerable Bede, who studied calligraphy as a boy, to realise how connected this area is to this art form,” explained Manny.
Manny has forged his own successful career out of calligraphy, combining his knowledge and interest in Eastern philosophy with Western design and typographic practice to develop a distinctive approach to the subject. He has been invited to speak and show his work internationally, and completed a PhD in 2008 – the first practice based Doctorate in the world to be awarded for Western calligraphy.
He said: “Since I was 16 I have always wanted to promote calligraphy in a more formal and academic way to a broad audience.
“I want to people to see calligraphy as more than just a hobby. It’s an art form in itself and something you can study for the whole of your life.”