“I’ve met people whom I want to work with so badly, you know, but I just don’t get them,” she says. “I don’t mean that to be snooty or snobby; I’m open to working with everybody, but of course everyone I work with at present are people I have personal connections with. As an advisor, it’s a very personal relationship.” Though only 25, Zoe has dipped her fingers into numerous art industry pots since she fell in love with art history and completed a double major in Creative Writing and Art Management at Ateneo de Manila University. “I finished that and at first I wanted to become a curator or an art writer,” she reveals. “I don’t know if it was the drama whore in me, but I ended up saying to myself that if I’m going to do something, it has to be ground-breaking. I had to be the best at what I do. And curating just wasn’t it.” At just 19, Peña began working for numerous galleries around Hong Kong, including Osage Gallery in Kwun Tong, which specialises in South Asian art. It wasn’t until she left Osage that she realised her niche and her career path finally began to take form. She started off as an independent art dealer – mostly selling artworks by artists from the Philippines whom she knew or grew up with. “I thought, let’s just see how this goes,” she says, “then all of a sudden, the collectors I worked with at galleries started contacting me asking me if I knew this artist or that artist, wanting to find and collect their artwork. It was actually Victor who suggested starting something that concentrates on South Asian art.” And so, Lightbombs was born. “I kid you not, I’ve had lightbombs.com since the age of 16 not knowing what to do with it,” she says, her voice rising with excitement. “I just thought of it and it was either going to be a personal blog or a website for my published art writing and now, this is what it was meant for.” Being a young Filipina trying to make a mark in Hong Kong’s art scene, Peña says, is not without the stigma some people in the city have about her culture. “There aren’t
many of us here who aren’t domestic helpers. I don’t know if that’s controversial to say, but that’s just the reality of it.” “It does get you down when people don’t take you seriously when you’re so passionate about what you do, but I know I didn’t get where I am at 25 without being good at my job,” says Peña. “There are instances where people are open enough to take that risk so I’m thankful for that, but it has reached a point where I just don’t care about that kind of stuff any more.” After all, it’s not a race or cultural war she’s trying to wage. For Peña, it’s about paving the way for more homegrown, grassroots initiatives that support Hong Kong’s development as Asia’s up-and-coming art and cultural hub beyond the overpriced ‘high’ art that thrives on big names and price tags which, frankly, was the only type of art scene Hong Kong had up until recent years. I ask Peña for her two cents on big events such as Art Basel making its debut in Hong Kong this year. “I think it’s a positive thing; anything that brings attention to what we do is good. The only negative thing is I hope we don’t get overshadowed - but that’s not their problem, that’s our problem. As a Founder of something like Lightbombs, it’s my job to make sure I don’t become overshadowed. It pushes me to keep up.” Looking back on its first year, Lightbombs has been slowly but surely building a strong foundation for such a movement, bringing attention to talent across Asia including Hong Kong-based artists such as Dan Findlay, Marc Standing and Jonathan Jay Lee. “We want these works to go into homes that will really appreciate them,” Peña explains. “The best and key thing - more than the art, more than what people like myself and Victor do - is the general public’s interest in art. We can’t do what we do without that interest.” Hong Kong-based artist Dan Findlay will host his first solo showing at Lightbombs, from March 16th through April 6th, 2013. Viewings are by appointment only. Email email@example.com to schedule a visit.
Published on Apr 17, 2013