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Exterior view of Centre for Chinese Contemporary Art (CFCCA), Manchester, 2017. Photo by Arthur Siuksta. Courtesy CFCCA.

The Year of the Rat

On March 9, I published an open letter to Manchester’s Centre for Chinese Contemporary Art (CFCCA), withdrawing my participation from the exhibition “A New Constellation: Chinese Diaspora Now.” This move was prompted by the sudden departure of CFCCA’s curator, Tiffany Leung, which highlighted the reality of a systemic problem. Of the organization’s remaining team, only one is a non-white person. The situation reflects a wider demographic imbalance across conversations on “Chinese” arts and artists in the United Kingdom and beyond. This disparity perpetuates the overwhelmingly white Eurocentric perspective through which art is presented. As long as we operate in systems that offer more authority to the white voice, whiteness will continue to be the custodian of our narratives. As feminist theorist Donna J. Haraway wrote in Staying with the Trouble (2016), “It matters what matters we use to think other matters with . . . It matters what stories make worlds, what worlds make stories.” For any cultural organization to stand as a “leading authority” on any underrepresented voice, it must address that underrepresentation throughout, from its volunteers and interns to its management team, not least because even the most well-educated white curators cannot possess the inarticulable embodied knowledge of what it is like to live in a non-white body. 

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David Zwirner Silverlens ACAW