In between two Victorias and In between Tropics and Temperate form part of a body of work the artist first developed in 2002 during a residency at Gasworks in London. Wong's "Mind the Gap" project looks at the fractures and similarities between the topography of two cities - London and Penang, the former the seat of the British Empire, the latter one of the Empire's key port cities and also the artist's hometown. A member of the first post-Independence generation of Malaysian artists, some of Wong's most important work deals with post-colonial issues, geo-political dynamics and the problems of reading history. In "Mind the Gap", he created two maps, in the cartographic style of the 15th-17th centuries, interweaving the streets and landmarks of Penang and London, so that, in this disorienting fantasy, the colonized creeps into the domain of the colonial power, and vice versa. The lines of power and influence become blurred. Each map is accompanied by a small number of charcoal drawings in which portraits of a man and a boy, loosely based on the artist himself, are situated in a place within the map. These two drawings grow out of "Map of Downing Street and its Vicinity". "In Between Two Victorias" shows the adult figure carrying the child figure, between the respective Victoria Memorials of London and Penang, in front of Fort Cornwallis, and the Muka Head lighthouse in Penang, both built by the British. Interestingly, the Victoria Memorial in Penang was built before the London monument. The theme of paternity, and the crossings and trappings of Empire are clearly key in this image. Meanwhile, "In Between Tropics and Temperate", set in St James' Park, focuses on a medley of flora and fauna to be found on either side of the Commonwealth. The drawings are meticulously executed, picking out the finest details, yet deliberately flattened or skewed, creating a heightened sense of reality and strangeness at the same time.
Wong has consistently worked on charcoal drawings through his oeuvre, most famously in Of Migrants and Rubber Trees, a groundbreaking exhibition in 1999, which explored the many facets of migrant history and experience in Malaysia.
Wong's statement on the 1999 exhibition reveals the affinity between the present work and his earlier exhibition "I grew up listening to stories. Stories told to by my father and mother, grandmothers, aunties and uncles. They were stories of remembrance layered with wonder and pain, conflict and reconciliation, mystery and miracle. My drawings take these stories, rich with images, as a starting point. I am interested in how the histories of people are made; how the individual 'I' becomes the collective 'I' and the easily forgotten dreams of one person become the dreams of a people. I am interested in the migration of people, their paths, their continuous ebb and flow, from land to land searching for a better life and their eventual indigenization in a new homeland. I am interested in the rude ironies of British colonialism and emergence of modern Malaysia, the clash and convergence of cultures and classes, the hopes and failures of a society." (Wong Hoy Cheong in Of Migrants & Rubber Trees, Five Arts Centre and Valentine Willie Fine Art, 1996)
Wong's treatment of the figure and the portrait in drawing has always been unique, a careful stylised rendering which cleverly combines childlike simplicity, painstaking application and the dramatic use of light, shadow and perspective, to achieve the greatest psychological impact. His charcoal works are one facet of his multi-disciplinary practice, which stretches across drawing, video, installation, site-specific interventions, theatre and performance. A principal, influential figure in Malaysian contemporary art, he has shown extensively in major exhibitions across Europe, the UK and in Asia and Australia over the past twenty years.