Meet Bertha Chan and Laura Zhang. Friends and founding members of PUURR, Hong Kong’s new collective celebrating femininity in any form.
They recognize the importance for carving out safe spaces for marginalized groups, and establishing PUURR is far from the first time they've undertaken this pursuit.
Laura is curator for pop-up art space 宀 Gallery, which provides a platform for emerging artists in Hong Kong; no easy feat in a city not typically known for the accessibility or inclusivity of its art scene.
For Bertha, the creation of PUURR was preceded by a catalogue of impactful work that has tackled harmful gender stereotypes. This includes founding both Curvasian, a platform celebrating body image and positivity in any form, and Drastic Social, a platform for creatives dedicated to making social and cultural changes.
So, why PUURR?
“PUURR is an intersectional femme-centric nightclub space created to foster inclusion, equality and self-expression,” says Laura. “There have been very limited spaces that support the marginalised groups in our society, so we exist to make that space for all; this is The PUURR Manifesto,” says Laura.
“The starting idea was that we wanted to have a club night that is focused around femininity and has a deeper kind of engagement,” explains Laura.
“Yes, these nights become a party but they start with something else – asking questions about identity and exploring self-image while nurturing connection in deeper way." - Laura Zhang
Both Laura and Bertha were born in Hong Kong. However, it was their contrasting early life experiences which appear to have shaped their commitment and shared contribution to the city's sub-culture today.
Laura grew up barefoot on one of the city's beautiful outlying islands, Lamma, before moving to the UK to study Fine Art and eventually returning to Hong Kong.
"The beautiful thing about this place is that it can be this powerful cultural hybrid but when I came back in 2014, I saw how even the most progressive spaces here were still so far behind what’s happening in US and Europe.
What's needed for meaningful progress is strong voices within the community to come together, rather than communities forming isolated bubbles. That's what collective's like PUURR are all about; connecting voices to make change."
"The beautiful thing about this place is that it can be this powerful cultural hybrid (but) what's needed for meaningful progress is strong voices within the community to come together." - Laura Zhang
Unlike Laura, Bertha lived her adolescence in Hong Kong, exploring the underground music scene of Aberdeen in pursuit of the very safe spaces that her work with Laura now fosters.
“Until the age of 10, I was shaped and formed by the traditional values of my family. However, after being introduced to western music by a classmate, my whole world opened up. As a result, I developed an interest in the underground music scene and skating,” smiles Bertha, fondly recalling these memories.
"...my conservative local family...place value on women based on how beautiful, slim and domestic they are. They needed me to play a very traditional gender role in order be comfortable.." - Bertha Chan
“This was, of course, at odds with my conservative local family who place value on women based on how beautiful, slim and domestic they are. They needed me to play a very traditional gender role in order be comfortable, so when I skated or showed an interest in rock music, they struggled. Even now the family think I’m not normal - that I’m an ‘alien.’
Over the years my interest in art and subculture has developed even further which led me to founding PUURR, Curvasian and now, Drastic Social. I am building a community based around acceptance, inclusion and diversity; a community I myself struggled to find in Hong Kong for many years.”
How is PUURR trying to shift attitudes towards gender in Hong Kong?
“In traditional Asian culture, many people still think feminism means anti-men but that’s not what PUURR is about," Bertha asserts. "Ours is an inclusive space; one which welcomes you however you identify.”
“Femme-centric isn’t targeting women as a gender," continues Laura. "Feminine energy is about a softer approach and celebrating those who want to express themselves in a different way. It is fluid; genderless."
“Femme energy can be vulnerable, empathetic, sensitive whilst also strong and resilient. It’s a different approach than femininity in the past, where gentleness and humility are encouraged. We are proud to celebrate who we are as strong individuals in fluidity.”
Jo Cheung is a Hong Kong-based photographer.
Bryan Cheng, also Hong Kong-based, is a stylist.
They are both incredible and we highly recommend you get in touch for any creative projects.