UP Gallery is delighted to present Dear Franklin, a solo exhibition by artist Kurt Tong. Since his two-person show with our gallery in 2019, his series Sweet Water Bitter Earth has garnered significant recognition, Kurt has since embarked on a profound exploration of his cultural roots and deepened his connection to his homeland through a series of new works. Over the course of five years, the project, which initially ignited in 2018, has evolved into a groundbreaking “artist’s book” that was officially published in 2022. This remarkable artistic endeavor received the prestigious Prix Elysée, and it earned the distinction of being named one of the best books of 2022 by the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York, USA. UP Gallery is excited and honored to present this outstanding project in the form of an exhibition.
The genesis of this project unfolded when Tong stumbled upon an old chest brimming with a treasure trove of love letters, portraits, dried flowers, and a collection of Chinese and Japanese newspapers and magazines spanning the decades of the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s. It was within these evocative relics that he commenced the intricate task of reconstructing the daily lives of the project’s central figures—two star-crossed lovers separated by the tumultuous currents of history. The narrative unfolds as we delve into the life of a young man hailing from a modest family in Canton during the last century. His heart entwined with the daughter of a Kuomintang general, their love story unfolds amidst the backdrop of a politically charged era. Franklin Lung and his fiancée Dongyu bore witness to the ravages of war, the trials of exile, and the profound impact of acculturation. Beneath the veneer of this serial-like love story, Kurt deftly weaves in the broader tapestry of the end of China’s political and social history in the first half of the 20th century. Vintage press clippings, intimate letters, artifacts and a compelling array of photographs are thoughtfully integrated throughout the exhibition space. Visitors are warmly welcomed to immerse themselves in these captivating artifacts, providing a unique window into a bygone era of love, resilience, and the dynamic forces that shaped a nation’s destiny.
The allure of this project lies in its ability to blur the lines between fact and fiction, creating a captivating interplay within the realm of photography as it simultaneously documents and narrates. Kurt Tong’s recent body of work seamlessly incorporates elements of installation and sculpture, adding a dynamic dimension to his artistic practice, and we are thrilled to showcase this growth in the gallery’s exhibition.Within these artistic creations, the concept of “micro-history” resonates deeply with contemporary societal themes such as armed conflict, migration, separation, and disappearance. Tong donning the roles of archivist, poet, novelist, and historian, boldly explores the boundaries of what photography can be, what it is expected to be, and its limitless possibilities. The result is an iconographic richness, a literary approach, and a historical vision that masterfully weaves together the intricate tapestry of Dear Franklin, blending elements of the past, present, fiction, and reality into a compelling and unforgettable narrative.