In the Gallery with: Sarah Greene

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In 2007, Greene opened the first incarnation of Blue Lotus Gallery in her loft in Fo Tan, Hong Kong

My life seems to be a string of serendipities,” says Sarah Greene, founder of Blue Lotus Gallery in Hong Kong. Born and raised in Ghent, Belgium, Greene became interested in Asia after her childhood best friend decided to learn Korean as a teen. Greene accompanied her to an evening course at the University of Ghent and was fascinated by the professor’s travels and the history of Asia.

Inspired, Greene decided to pursue a Masters in Oriental Arts and Cultures at university. “What you really learn when studying other cultures is how strongly your mind is defined by your own culture, religion and set of values. Our minds are less free than we tend to think,” she observes. 

Balance穩. Hong-Kong. 1950s and 60s © Fan Ho, courtesy of Blue Lotus Gallery.

In 2003, Greene made the leap and took a job working as a shipbroker in Hong Kong during the SARS pandemic, which followed the Asian financial crisis. “Rent was cheap and bars were giving free drinks to girls all night long,” she says. It was a strange time but the pandemic was short compared to what we are experiencing now.”

Soon after arriving the economy started picking up, but, as Greene recalls, “the art scene was very small with just a handful of galleries focusing on artists from China and hardly any art fairs. The auctions were mainly focused on antiquities with their viewing exhibitions taking place in conference rooms in ballrooms of hotels.”

In her early 30s, Greene received her first company bonus and bought an industrial loft in Fo Tan, a neighbourhood near the Chinese University in Hong Kong where many artists kept studios. Recognising an opportunity to show their work, Greene opened the first incarnation of Blue Lotus Gallery in her loft in 2007. 

Market-Promenade 開門七件事. Hong-Kong. 1950s and 60s © Fan Ho, courtesy of Blue Lotus Gallery.

Artists told Greene that “blue lotus” brought good luck, and indeed it did. “Some now-famous artists like Koon Wai Bong, Lee Kit, Sarah Lai, and Trevor Young had some of their first solo exhibitions at my space,” says Greene, who focused on showing Hong Kong artists working in various media.

After closing her loft space, Greene continued to participate in the scene. In 2013, while showing Fan Ho’s photographs at a small art fair, she met Peter Lau, the founder of Asia One Printing Ltd. Lau owned an industrial building that featured AO Vertical, an extremely unconventional art gallery located inside a 14-story staircase. He invited Greene to run the space and she launched it with a show of Fan Ho’s work. 

“To see the exhibitions one took the lift to the 14th floor and walked all the way down,” Greene explains. “It was rough but space in Hong Kong is precious and I had no space of my own. I stationed my working desk in the corner of the ground floor bookshop, which was probably the largest in Asia at the time. This became my main source for learning about photography. I often took books home to read.”

After their collaboration ended in 2015, Greene launched the second incarnation of Blue Lotus Gallery, this time with a focus on photography. “Photography came to find me but once I embarked on that journey, a new world opened to me,” she says. “I love the directness and accessibility of photography, within the art world it feels like the least elitist form of art, which allows communication with a wider audience.”

Gong Li 01' Macau, 2001 © Wing Shya, courtesy of Blue Lotus Gallery.

As always, Greene maintains her focus on Hong Kong culture and identity, working with established photographers including Michael Kenna, Wing Shya, and Yasuhiro Orawa, and emerging artists like KC Kwan, Romain Jacquet-Lagrèze, and Tugo Cheng. Blue Lotus also represents Fan Ho and his estate exclusively worldwide. 

“In the last few years, there has been a strong urge for Hong Kong to define its own identity with an attempt to define what makes the city unique. More than ever, people care about heritage and contemporary culture,” says Greene. Every artist she signs to the roster arrives in their own unique way, be it through referrals or a monthly photography workshop. 

“I hope to expand our scope beyond Hong Kong to other parts of the region,” says Greene. “We are exhibiting artists from Japan and aim to highlight interesting projects from China, Malaysia, and Singapore. In the West, there is a strong ecosystem of museums, podcasts, galleries, and magazines dedicated to photography but many photographers and projects in Asia are underrepresented. I hope in time to change that while growing an audience in both hemispheres.”

Miss Rosen

Miss Rosen is a New York-based writer focusing on art, photography, and culture. Her work has been published in books by Arlene Gottfried, Allan Tannenbaum, and Harvey Stein, as well as magazines and websites including Time, Vogue, Aperture, Dazed, AnOther, and Vice, among others.