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‘I’ve been thinking about how to bring more people together,’ muses Laura Zhang, artist and curator of Mihn 宀 Gallery. Basking in the successful opening of street artist Lousy’s show at the gallery, Zhang sits down to chat with me over fresh cold mezze of tzatziki and roasted eggplant. Sharing a plate of veggie crudités, we lounge in the afternoon sun pouring into Artemis & Apollo, a Greek taverna complete with spray-painted busts. In a stroke of fate, the restaurant along Moon Street happens to be directly across some of Lousy’s drawings.

Curious about her journey towards championing emerging artists as well as creating her own abstract works, I ask about her early life. Growing up on Lamma Island with an English mother and a Chinese father, she describes her young self as ‘a classic Lamma hippie child’. Roaming barefoot around the island with her older sister, she fondly recalls long days spent in nature, and painting as soon as she could hold a brush. Watching broadcaster David Attenborough wax poetically about the miracles of mother earth, she developed a deep connection to the world around her — but as a daydreamer, she found herself facing difficulties during primary school.

Artist Laura Zhang (left) converses with Kaitlin Chan at Artemis & Apollo in Starstreet Precinct

‘Assignments were marked based on what you got wrong, not on what you got right,’ she bemoans with a laugh. For Zhang, it was only on meeting empathetic educators who nurtured her creativity that her life possibilities began to unfold, like the art teacher who enthusiastically told her that art would be her path. When the time came to consider life after secondary school, Zhang felt clear that the artist’s life was a challenge worth undertaking. Embarking on a fine arts degree at Leeds University, she finally felt that she’d met her tribe.

Chicken and pork souvlakis and simple, tasty mezze exemplify the restaurant's take on Greek cuisine

In addition to painting and drawing, Zhang found herself drawn to the thriving communities embedded in Leeds’s underground music scene. Over juicy pork and chicken souvlakis, we discuss how this passion transformed her life. ‘There were people creating their own businesses, record labels and parties — things you can survive off,’ she says, eyes bright with wonder. ‘It was an interesting path to a different world, and a different way of making a living.’ She began participating in art fairs, creating decor for parties and scheming of ways to meld the worlds of fine art and techno music. Rather than artworks being rarefied objects, she wondered if it was possible to open things up. ‘I wondered if art could be consumed more like music, which is a little more free,’ she says.

Vegetable crudites are a light complement to engaging conversation

Moving back to Hong Kong after graduation, she soon became connected to a new underground music platform: Mihn 宀 Club. From June 2018, Mihn started bringing electronic music talents from all over the world to play in its Sheung Wan space. Committed to a dynamic roster of programming, Mihn welcomes people of different backgrounds to gather and be free. In October 2019, Laura became the curator of Mihn 宀 Gallery, a pop-up art space providing an autonomous platform for emerging artists to exhibit and sell their work.

Zhang specifically sought out artists whose work spoke to her sensibilities, including linework drawings riffing off beloved Hong Kong films by Iris Yung, 35mm quotidian street photography by Gideon de Kock, and earlier this year, a group exhibition of breakout women artists themed as Stardust. Collaborating with a range of creators, she revels in the possibilities of different interactions; when other people are involved, she notes, anything becomes possible. She credits her friends and the Mihn community for inspiring her to brainstorm more intentional ways for people to congregate. In March, Zhang and a group of collaborators, including Curvasian founder Bertha Chan and DJ Misty Penguin, launched Puurr, a new collective celebrating femininity in any form. Carving out a space by women for women in the city’s nightlife, they’re planning events that centre on inclusivity and open dialogues.

Zhang's artwork 111531 Flux, 2017. Pen and pencil on paper, 39 x 39 cm

As we finish up lunch, we circle back to her own artistic practice. Her childhood love for the environment would later manifest in abstract geometric paintings and drawings, all based on algorithms found in the natural world, such as the repeating fractal patterns of snowflakes. The resulting works are often colourful and hypnotic. ‘I’m interested in building processes rather than final pieces,’ she explains. ‘My approach is very meditative, where I’m learning from doing.’ She hopes to exhibit more of her works in the future, though her focus for now is building on Mihn’s exhibition programme and developing Puurr.

Indulging in final bites of sweet labneh cheesecake, we toast our glasses of fresh green apple juice and Greek chamomile iced tea to the exciting possibilities ahead.