Sep 20 2021

Obituary: Pamela Kember

by Pamela Wong

Portrait of PAMELA KEMBER. Copyright Miles Willis Photography. Courtesy Asia House, London.

On September 10, independent art critic, art historian, and curator Pamela Kember passed away in London. 

Raised in Hong Kong and educated at the University of Wales in Cardiff, Kember started her career at Oxford’s Ashmolean Museum. Later, she transferred to The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) Oxford as an assistant, but soon became head of external relations as the museum increased its international engagement. She specialized in curating pan-Asian art projects and programs, and was responsible for the museum’s art library and archive. In 1997, she returned to Hong Kong, where she became an adjunct assistant professor at the department of architecture at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. She also taught at Hong Kong Art School and lectured at the Academy of Visual Arts, Hong Kong Baptist University, on art history and the critical theories of contemporary art in Asia. Starting in 2000, she served on the board of Hong Kong’s Asia Art Archive, and was later a member of the international advisory board.

After relocating to London in 2009, she pursued her PhD with a research focus on transnational identity and Hong Kong diaspora artists at the University of Arts, London, and gave courses on curating and contemporary art from Hong Kong, Japan, Taiwan, and China, among other Asian regions, at Chelsea College of Arts and Design. In 2013, she was appointed as head of arts and learning at London’s Asia House. During her six-year tenure, she organized lectures, workshops, exhibitions at the institution, and oversaw events such as the Pan Asian Film Festival and the Festival of Asian Literature, as well as a campaign for promoting Asian languages in schools in United Kingdom.  

Kember was a contributing editor for the Benezit Dictionary of Asian Artists and she published monographic essays on artists including John Young, Tao Ho, Ellen Pau, Leung Chi Wo, and Angela Su. She also contributed articles to art journals Third Text, Transnational Cinemas, and Art Libraries Journal, as well as magazines Asian Art News, World Sculpture News, and ArtAsiaPacific, with reviews on Alfredo Esquillo, Norberto Roldan, Caroline Chiu, and Ho Siu Kee, among other Asian artists.

David Elliott, former director of MoMA Oxford, expressed his grief and reflected on his memories of Kember at the museum, stating: “She was an energetic and integral part of the small team that projected the museum onto a global platform, a role for which her childhood in Hong Kong had prepared her well. Professionally, she had good ideas and was quick, smart, flexible and unflinching in her commitment. Personally, I remember Pamela as an elegant, dear, charming and loyal friend. The lack of her presence will leave a deep void."

A memorial for Kember will be held at Asia House on September 25.

Pamela Wong is ArtAsiaPacific’s assistant editor.

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