Major Overhaul of Leadership at Manchester’s Centre for Chinese Contemporary Art
By Beata Li
Xiaowen Zhu, former assistant director at Times Art Center Berlin, has been named the new director of Manchester’s Centre for Chinese Contemporary Art (CFCCA), effective in June. CFCCA also welcomed five new Chinese trustees to its board: Philomena Chen, head of Asia Pacific at Manchester’s Department for International Trade; Simon Li, chairman of China Alliance Group Limited; Yung Ma, curator at London’s Hayward Gallery; Shanghai and Berlin-based artist aaajiao (also known as Xu Wenkai); and Bonnie Yeung, marketing director of Yang Sing Chinese Restaurant in Manchester.
Speaking of her appointment, Zhu said, “I’m thrilled to join and lead CFCCA, a 36-year-old British contemporary art institution that has created a legacy of supporting artists and cultural practitioners from East Asia and all over the world. Located in the heart of Manchester . . . CFCCA provides a public space of engagement, enrichment and experimentation for local, national and international communities.” Under Zhu’s leadership, CFCCA “will strive to widen its outreach in the art world and across society through a re-envisaged, transcultural programme and a reactivated, dynamic research framework.”
Zhu has worked internationally as a curator, writer, and lecturer. At the nonprofit Times Art Center, she was dedicated to promoting and showcasing the practices of under-represented artists from Asia. During her nearly four-year tenure, she oversaw projects including Wong Ping’s solo exhibition “Earwax” (2022) and the group exhibition “Más Allá, el Mar Canta: Diasporic Intimacies and Labour” (2021). She also organized numerous programs with artists including Lawrence Abu Hamdan, Jane Jin Kaisen, Christine Sun Kim, Ho Tzu Nyen, Koki Tanaka, Nguyen Trinh Thi, Shen Xin, Thao Nguyen Phan, Ming Wong, and Zhou Tao. From September 2020 to March 2021, she taught a course on storytelling through digital media as a guest lecturer at Heidelberg University. In 2020, she published her own book Oriental Silk, a bilingual publication that examines the relationship between migration, identity, memory, craft, and art. Her essays, interviews, and reviews have been published by various Chinese and English magazines, such as Kaleidoscope, thepaper, and Crown Magazine.
CFCCA has been closed since the Covid-19 lockdown in March 2020 and the Centre's reopening has been indeterminately delayed due to controversies related to racism. In March 2020, artist JJ Chan withdrew from a group exhibition and published an open letter that brought attention to the sudden departure of CFCCA’s then-curator Tiffany Leung, who revealed in October 2020 that she was discriminated and bullied by other staff. Seven artists also initiated a petition in May 2021, calling for the Arts Council England to defund the Centre and for others to boycott CFCCA.
In August 2021, CFCCA’s board launched an independent audit to re-examine these issues on organizational management and the lack of diversity. For the recruitment, the interim executive director and board established new policies and procedures to “increase the representation of people with lived experience of Chinese and East Asian heritage and culture within the organisation.” CFCCA will reopen to the public in 2023.