WMA Award Spotlight: Kurt Tong

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We countdown to this year’s submission deadline for Hong Kong’s prestigious WMA Masters Award by featuring selected past winners.

Kurt Tong was a winner of the MOBILITY theme in 2016/17 with his entry ‘The Threads of Sisterhood.’

Around the beginning of the Qin Dynasty (circa 1640s), in the Shunde area of South China, thanks to the booming silk trade, sectors of women became financially independent. Many would wear their hair in a long braid to symbolise their autonomy until their wedding, often having a say in who they would marry. Towards the end of the 19th century, as Imperial China began to crumble and instability spread, many women in the area took the initiative and performed the comb up ritual.

The comb up ceremony involved bathing with mulberry leaves and a fellow sister would braid their hair. From that day on, they could only wear a light colour tunic and dark trousers. They would take the chastity vow and have no further obligations towards their parents. They were free to travel and make their own living.

Tong’s ‘The Threads of Sisterhood’ centres around Mak Ngan Yuk (麥顏玉), an eighty seven year old woman who was my nanny and worked for my family for nearly 40 years. In every sense, she symbolises the last generation of comb-up women, hard working, selfless and independent.

Tong combines new photographs, found photographs and several other mixed media pieces, including Chinese Ink work and two textile based work. They retrace the life of Mak’s so far and beyond. Both biographical and anthropological, her story will be the starting point to explore generations of comb up women, giving a voice to generations of unsung heroines who are might otherwise be ignored and forgotten.

Born in Hong Kong in 1977, Kurt became a full-time photographer in 2003. He was the winner of the Luis Valtuena International Humanitarian Photography Award with his first picture story documenting the treatment of disabled children in India. He worked for many other NGOs and covered stories from Female Infanticide to ballroom dancers. Much of Kurt’s recent work incorporates elements of installation and sculptural, pushing the boundaries of the medium. He is represented by Jen Bekman Gallery in New York and The Photographer’s Gallery in London.


WMA Masters Award is one of Asia’s most prized photography competition. The Award is open to Hong Kong and international photographers and free to enter. Submissions must, however, have Hong Kong as subject and LIGHT as theme. Submit your project by 11TH OCTOBER 2019 and stand a chance to win HK$250,000 cash prize. More info on https://wma.hk/light.

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