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Dec 08 2020

INVESTMENT FIRM PLAGIARIZES HONG KONG ARTIST

by Pamela Wong

Portrait of GIRAFFE LEUNG LOK HEI in front of his series Coins – Memories of Hong Kong (2017– ). Courtesy the artist.

Investment management company Principal Hong Kong and its media agency The Bread Digital have been accused of plagiarism by Hong Kong artist Giraffe Leung Lok Hei, who claimed that the firm wrongfully appropriated his signature coin-based artworks without his consent. The artist first aired his complaints in a Facebook statement on December 5.

Leung found remarkable similarities to himself and his artworks in the one-and-a-half minute promotional video about Principal Hong Kong’s brand story, released on November 26 both online and installed in public transportation stations across the city, and which features segments of three different working professionals. In one of the segments, tagged on social media by Principal Hong Kong as #DevelopmentOfACoinArtist, a male actor is seen constructing a world map using coins, including a shot of the actor flipping a HKD one-dollar coin.

The final artwork in the video, with the continents and the ocean represented by bright and dark coins respectively, closely resembles Leung’s signature style from his series Coins – Memories of Hong Kong (2017– ). For this series, Leung used various chemical solutions to alter the color of the coins used in his depiction of Hong Kong, in an attempt “to use coins to remind people of the value of things that existed and played a role in our lives,” according to the artist. One particular work by Leung, Telephone Booth (2019), is composed entirely of HKD one-dollar coins, which the video also references. Leung’s series was exhibited in 2019 at his representative gallery, the Hong Kong-based La Galerie Paris 1839.

Explaining his reaction to the campaign by The Bread Digital, the artist wrote: “I have no relation to this promotional video and the work featured in it . . . I have realized the exploitation of my identity as an artist and my creation style in this video just recently. The media agency has produced this advertisement without any permission granted by me or by my representative gallery. Their action is disrespectful and offensive to me, as well as to all artists and art makers . . . we reserve the right to pursue legal liability for the mishandling and plagiarism of the work.”

La Galerie gallery manager Fion Ko explained to ArtAsiaPacific that The Bread Digital first contacted the artist via Instagram on March 5, asking him if he would like to be featured as himself in an advertisement for Principal Hong Kong. According to the proposal, the video segment titled “Development of a Coin Artist” would be based on Leung’s identity as a coin artist, and would show him creating a work on camera. The artist rejected the proposal then, as his series primarily portrays Hong Kong’s landscape and figures, which does not match Principal Hong Kong’s request for a world map. On April 4, the media company emailed La Galerie regarding the collaboration, and requested a commissioning quote for Leung’s art. However, according to Ko, The Bread Digital later decided not to proceed with the commission, citing a “lack of budget” after receiving a full catalog of Leung’s available works. There had not been any further communication between the parties until the release of the video.

Principal is a Fortune 500 company and manages more than USD 731 billion in assets. The Bread Digital, which is a subsidiary of the creative agency The Bees, did not have any comment before this article was published but is expected to issue a statement.

Pamela Wong is ArtAsiaPacific’s assistant editor. 

To read more of ArtAsiaPacific’s articles, visit our Digital Library.

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