The name Woofer Ten is a transliteration of the Chinese for “heritage renewal and conservation room” and the space is run by a group of artists, curators, critics and other cultural workers who want to introduce contemporary art that engages with the community. They hold different exhibitions and stage many ad hoc activities such as performances, guided tours, workshops, talks, and film screenings.
Justina Wong, Woofer Ten’s coordinator, thinks art should not be confined to the small group of artists in Yau Ma Tei. Instead, the kaifong (neighbours in Cantonese) are welcomed and encouraged to embrace and contribute to the cultural atmosphere.
“Different kaifong have different interpretations of the purpose of Woofer Ten,” says Wong. “But no matter what they think of this place, they can feel free to utilise it.”
On the day of Varsity’s visit, Woofer Ten had just received hundreds of books donated by a retired universiy Professor. Szeto Siu-mei, a retired nurse, comes to Woofer Ten and selects some, including some on health, which she hopes will help stroke patients.
“They [Woofer Ten] started this; from the bottom of my heart, I feel I want to help. I find it very meaningful,” says Szeto, who is an active participant of events held by Woofer Ten, including being a “teacher” in an anti-national education programme called “I Teach If You Are Willing to Learn”.
To outsiders, it may seem that Woofer Ten is providing a lot to the community, but in fact, the kaifong also bring a lot to Woofer Ten.
Vangi Fong Wan-chi, a core member of Woofer Ten, says the space has a complex relationship with the kaifong. “It is not just that we ask neighbours to join [the events]. They may feel like bringing their talents into full play,” says Fong. “They engage with us not only by sitting around, but they also read our Woofer Paper monthly and give opinions to us.”
Cheng Chik-kuen is one of the neighbours who is very active and has even initiated events. He often brings things to Woofer Ten, from food to music. As a lover and collector of old CDs and vinyl records, he has some old tracks that even radio stations do not have. He is currently discussing the idea of holding an old music exhibition with the members of Woofer Ten.
For Cheng, Woofer Ten is a unique place to meet and share views with new and old friends. “Forget about on this street, how could you find any other place like this in the entire city? You can’t,” he says.
Maybe you would not find another place exactly like Woofer Ten, but just a couple of blocks away is another cultural space working on community engagement. Located in Tak Cheong Lane, Two or Three Things about Tak Cheong Lane opened in July. It is filled with books, CDs and other items. People are free to put and take things away without payment, although item swaps are also encouraged. There is also a computer and a Wi-Fi connection which the kaifong are welcome to use.