Kenny X Li, YeP YeP
Hong Kong photographer and art director Kenny X. Li has just launched the first issue of YeP YeP, an exciting, visually-orientated magazine featuring work by nine of the city’s creatives.
The magazine gives voice to the Hong Kong’s creative community in a way that contrasts dramatically with the political crackdowns of the past two years. As Kenny explained to me, ‘The idea for this first issue is to showcase what people don't normally see from Hong Kong and to highlight to the rest of the world some of the amazing creative talent from the city.’
What are you up to this Monday morning?
Very lucky that Hong Kong has never had any hard lockdowns throughout Covid, so we’re free to go anywhere. As a freelance photographer I spend a lot of time shooting throughout the city, and when I’m not shooting you’ll find me in a coffeeshop or somewhere outdoors slaving away on my laptop.
On this particular Monday I just finished my morning swim at a beach close to where I live, and I’ll be here for the next few hours doing work for the magazine and prepping for a photoshoot later this afternoon. I try to avoid working from home as it’s nearly impossible getting anything done with a three year old toddler around.
Describe your desk and your work space
My desk is wherever I am! This is my view from work today. Normally I would hold meetings in a coffee shop.
Are you feeling optimistic about the future?
Yes. I’m generally a pretty optimistic person so I think that globally the covid situation will either improve or we’ll find new/creative solutions to cope with it. We’re pretty resilient as a species, so yeah, I have high hopes.
As for Hong Kong, I’m also feeling optimistic but cautious. Generally speaking things are quite peaceful right now. People are going out, spending money, and having fun. But underneath the calm facade I think there’s a bit of fear and uneasiness caused by the recent political clampdowns. I don’t know what’s going to happen in the future, but life goes on and I’ll just have to wait and see what happens next.
Which magazine do you first remember?
Growing up as a teenager in Hong Kong during the early 90’s, my life revolved around listening to canto-pop and reading teen idol magazines like Yes! The front cover would usually feature some local or regional pop star or actor, and content-wise it was the usual celebrity gossip, fashion trends, and stuff only teenagers cared about.
Which magazine matters to you the most this morning?
The magazine that’s inspired me most is probably Masses. It’s a fashion publication from Paris, and like YeP YeP it is images-only.
I remember visiting my friend’s studio and saw issue nine lying around. The cover was very intriguing and I found myself instantly blown away after flipping through the first few editorials. I eventually went through the magazine two or three more times and found something new each time. I actually had not come across any wordless fashion magazines before that day, so I’d say that Masses was very influential in forming YeP YeP.
It was at that moment I realised that the magazine I would soon create would also be image-driven and contain conceptual artwork. Without the distraction of text, the viewer can focus on the visual.
Describe YeP YeP in three words.
Experimental. Playful. Collaborative.
The magazine will surprise readers, who see Hong Kong existing under a repressive regime. How representative of the region is the content?
Hong Kong is going through strange times right now. First we had a year of protests and political unrest then immediately followed by Covid. Now we’re back in the news with the National Security Law and the subsequent clampdowns on pro-democracy organisations and individuals.
Every time my overseas friends ask me anything about Hong Kong it’s always about politics. Don’t get me wrong—politics is extremely important and we should 100% discuss it, but that’s not the only thing happening here. Despite the political turmoil, artists such as myself have been continuously creating work, and our arts scene is as vibrant as ever. So my goal is to offer another perspective in which to view Hong Kong.
Basically I want to tell the world is that it’s not all doom and gloom in Hong Kong—there’s lots of other cool stuff you should be paying attention to as well!
How did you source the content for the magazine?
I knew from the beginning that YeP YeP would feature all Hong Kong artists either based here or abroad. I spent a lot of time researching online, going to art shows and asking friends for recommendations in order to source artists whose work I want to feature in the magazine.
In the end I found nine amazing creatives spanning the fields of fashion, photography and graphic design, and I commissioned each one to create original work for the magazine. The theme I gave them was ‘Hong Kong identity’ and each artist had to visually explore their relationship with the city and create something that is distinctly about Hong Kong.
So for example, I didn’t want advertisers for YeP YeP and instead I hired a graphic design duo named Virtue Village to create a series of fake ads interspersed throughout the magazine (above). These ads have the same kitschy aesthetics as the ones you see on Hong Kong streets, but with a humorous and subversive twist. Another series is the cover story which I shot, featuring a gender-fluid bodybuilder named Law Siu Fung.
For me, Hong Kong identity is all about its people, so when I found Siu Fung, who was born female, I knew immediately that they would be the best model for a fashion editorial. By juxtaposing Siu Fung with the skinniest male model I could find, I wanted to break stereotypes on gender and masculinity, and challenge Hong Kong’s dull perspectives on sex and sexuality. There are other projects about food, feminism, queer identity, street photography, cool kids - all related to Hong Kong.
The magazine’s content is exclusively visual, and feels very digitally-oriented. Why produce a print publication now?
First of all I’m not a huge fan of Instagram or social media in general. I enjoy looking at photos in book form and feeling the texture of the paper as I turn the pages - it’s just so much more interactive and tactile. I think that print is a more mindful way of consuming imagery compared to the screen. It makes me slow down and appreciate the images. That’s why I decided to create a print publication instead of going digital.
Is YeP YeP available to buy in HK?
Yes it is. We’re sold in a couple of galleries, coffeeshops, and of course online. We also started to sell in London, New York, and Berlin, which is pretty cool.
What will be your highlight of the coming week?
For the rest of August, we’re having an exhibition at a local gallery called Present Projects, which I’m super excited about (above). Seven out of the nine contributors are showing reinterpreted versions of the work they created for the magazine in the form of videos, installations, and prints.
And on Friday evening we’re throwing a launch party at the gallery featuring a few local underground DJ’s. Going to be lots of great music and great vibes, so I’m really looking forward to that.