Queenie Li in her studio at Oxford’s Ruskin School of Art. Photo by John Cairns

  Queenie Li in her studio at Oxford’s Ruskin School of Art. Photo by John Cairns

A life-changing opportunity for Hong Kong’s brightest scholars

Scholar Queenie Li was able to pursue her dream to study fine art thanks to The D. H. Chen Foundation.


‘I am aware that my experience is not very common,’ begins The D. H. Chen Foundation Scholar Queenie Li. ‘A lot of people come to me and say that they are really inspired by my decision. They tell me that, because of my story, they are considering doing something different in their lives, especially back in Hong Kong.’

Queenie’s artistic career began at secondary school. She says: ‘I was known as the girl with the camera, a very compact small Casio. I recorded every moment at school and carried on at university. I took pictures for my friends but it was a hobby that I took quite seriously. Then I started to believe that it could become a career.’

Queenie was 25 years old and working in marketing for a global beauty firm when this ambition started to take shape. She secured an art mentor and spent her weekends creating a portfolio but, despite her dedication, she knew that she would need to also secure funding to take the next step. Thanks to The D. H. Chen Foundation Scholarships, that was made possible: Queenie is now a BFA (Bachelor of Fine Art) graduate from Oxford University.

The D. H. Chen Foundation, based in Hong Kong, was founded in 1970 by Dr DinHwa Chen, an ardent philanthropist and a devout Buddhist. Today, his vision of supporting community initiatives and worthy causes in education, medical research and healthcare, as well as the promotion of Buddhist values, continues.

More specifically, The D. H. Chen Foundation Scholarships provide full funding for undergraduate students from Hong Kong who demonstrate exceptional academic merit but who might not be able to take up their course of study due to financial circumstances. The scholarships are available for a wide range of subjects – the significance of which is not lost on Queenie, who says: ‘Most funding in Hong Kong is only available for courses such as law, PPE or science subjects. I’m so glad that The D. H. Chen Foundation is quite bold in supporting arts students. As part of the first cohort of The D. H. Chen Foundation Scholars at Oxford, I realise how lucky I am.’

In addition to the scholarship funding, The D. H. Chen Foundation provides internship funding for the scholars to gain insight and experience into their chosen career path. Queenie says: ‘I really treasure the internship subsidy. Ding Yi is a very big name in the contemporary Chinese art world and last year I had the chance to work in his artist’s studio in Shanghai for a month. I really relied on that internship subsidy for the accommodation and travel expenses.’

Queenie has also appreciated the freedom to diversify her practice, while continuing to draw on her life experience. ‘Photography is still my most comfortable medium and language but the school has given me a lot of opportunities to try different mediums. I have done a lot of performance video. I have also done some casting, wood structures and installations.

  Queenie's installation, as shown at the Ruskin Degree Shows 2019. Photo by Queenie Li.

‘I bring a lot of my corporate heritage into my current practice. I think there is a strong relationship between business and art: they are always price tagging artwork but what does that mean? There is lots of work I like but it’s very hard to evaluate. These are relationships that I’m really interested in exploring.’

This questioning approach is something that Queenie sees as a key feature of an Oxford education: ‘Oxford encourages you to develop your own critical thinking rather than just recite and learn what is taught. And it’s not an art school per se. I work with master’s and doctoral students in the engineering department or in music for compositions. I enjoy collaborating with people from different fields and I think that is how art should function these days: not an artist working in the studio, but going into the real world, collaborating with a lot of different professions and trying to make an impact in life. This is something that studying in this really special structure – the Ruskin School of Art at Oxford – has given me.’

Supporting scholars to pursue their passion and develop as thought leaders is a guiding principle of The D. H. Chen Foundation Scholarships. Ms Vivien Chen, Chairman of The D. H. Chen Foundation, says: ‘As Chairman of The D. H. Chen Foundation, I deem it an honour to establish these scholarships in my father’s name, given his strong belief in the power of education to effect change.

‘Collaborating with Oxford in this ground-breaking initiative is proof of our determination to provide Hong Kong with world-class, visionary and insightful leaders. Choosing from among Hong Kong’s brightest scholars, our aim is to give each and every one of them a life-changing opportunity to study here and to benefit not only on an intellectual level but also from Oxford’s humanitarian ethos of public service.’

Queenie is very aware that the reach of this scholarship will continue far into the future. She says: ‘The connections just keep carrying on: I was panel director of the student-organised Oxford-China Forum and I invited the artist with whom I worked in Shanghai to come and speak at the Oxford Union and to have tutorials with students. He was really happy to come. That’s the networking. It creates a ripple effect.’

And her advice for would-be applicants? ‘You should always just apply,’ she says. ‘It’s a process, so you shouldn’t just reject yourself and decide your fate before making the attempt. This whole experience has empowered me.’

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