Janet Lilo visual artist

Hand 2017

Auckland Festival of Photography Commission

Supported by the festival, Baker Douglas Photobooks and Creative New Zealand.

With thanks to Julia Dirkin, Elaine Smith, Shahidul Alam and Danny Simmons!



My dad’s hands were big and strong. Often covered in grease from a day’s work polishing metal. If Iever saw him, he’d try and flick me twenty dollar bills – leaving bits of black on the notes where fingers touched. To be honest, I never cared about money – and I still don’t. All I ever wanted was a bit of his time growing up. This time last year, when cancer took the life from him I observed how much his hands had changed. They were small. Pale. Clean. Unfamiliar. And I stared at them for a long time before saying goodbye. 

Above: Hand at Silo 6 in Auckland Festival of Photography (photo: Baker Douglas)

Below: Hand at Pingyao International Photo Festival, China.

phone pic / Grace

My translator handed me her phone with this picture on it and apologised – clearly worried at how I would react to news that people were walking all over my work. Poor Grace. I had to reassure her it was okay and something I expected to happen. In China, there is a famous legend about a Monkey King that reeked havoc in the heavens. After failed attempts to destroy the Monkey King by heavenly warriors, generals and even the Jade emperor himself, the Monkey King was finally outsmarted and subdued by the giant hand of Buddha. Apparently people have been reinacting this story when posing with my big hand. I wasn’t aware of this legend before today but very happy to learn about that cultural connection the audience is making with the work. 
When I made this work in New Zealand, It was my intention for people to pose with my work for photographs that would perhaps end up on social media – of course in China, it is different. The great firewall prohibits Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, WordPress etc. I asked my translator: What do you use here to communicate with others? she told me: WeChat or microblog – the former being most popular. From that moment I had eyes on cellphones everywhere trying to glimpse this app and noticed everyone was using it. Everyone. A young Chinese man I sat next to on a domestic flight from Taiyuan to Beijing was on his way to London where he studied Engineering. Me, going home to Auckland. He said theres no Facebook in China. I said: I think you’re lucky, there’s so much shit on it. Him: Laugh. But I want to see what the rest of the world is doing. Moments later pointing out the window I asked if that silver slither in the mountains was the Great Wall? He smiled and nodded his head – I was obviously too excited.
[1 hour later] Eating a cold waffle in Beijing. Had to empty luggage twice in airport baggage security. Lost my brother’s souvenir lighters the first time and then my external hardrive the next. Lucky it had nothing on it. Both times security took Milo and Harry’s crazy fidget spinners out of their tins and tested them to see what they were. I wanted to giggle a little bit but managed to keep a straight face.

phone pics / janet.



Thank you, Jody.

For giving me a hand in NZ and in China x

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