The mercury is hitting 35 degrees when I step inside Ama Huen’s apartment, which is on the top floor of a village house in the New Territories. “So where’s the studio?” I gasp, standing gratefully beneath the aircon. “Upstairs,” Huen replies, smiling serenely, pointing up to her roof terrace.
And it’s here, completely exposed to the baking heat apart from a canvas awning and a standing fan, that Huen is making her soul-baring art for her exhibition, The Inferno, with K11 Art Foundation (KAF). “To me, this isn’t really an exhibition – it’s actually a deep sharing of my past life,” Huen explains. “For the show, I’ve designed a metaphorical dark forest, so when people go in they actually go into the forest to see my artwork in different stages. First is how I battled with my addiction, because I was an alcoholic for a long time – more than a decade – and that made me so crazy for part of my life.
“Then [the next stage of the exhibition] is how having my son changed me, he was sort of like my pause, or saviour,” Huen continues. “And through the whole process I found God. So I walked out of the forest and saw the light – when you see the exhibition, you will hopefully feel it too.”
As well being inspired by her rediscovery of Christianity, Huen’s show – held in June and July – was also influenced by, and named for, Dante’s Inferno. “I read the Inferno five years ago, when I was pregnant with my son,” she recalls. “And though it was written in the 14th century, everything that I read in there is so relevant to what I’ve experienced about going into darkness, descending into hell.”
Huen expresses these feelings in a variety of media, including paintings on wood, videos, photographs and – on the opening and closing nights of The Inferno – live performances. “I started singing when I was very young, and my mother was a singer as well, so music was everything,” Huen says. “I got a record deal to become a Hong Kong local stupid pop star, but I hated it. But music to me is still very freeing and the expression comes almost without having to think about it. But with art, it’s a labour of love, because I only paint on wood and I love to carve. I love it because all these pieces of wood, they’re seemingly dead, but if I put my heart into them and I communicate with them visually, then I can bring them to life.”