Manchester’s Asian Art Center to Relaunch After Restructuring
By Qin Wang
Manchester-based nonprofit esea contemporary, formerly known as the Centre for Chinese Contemporary Art (CFCCA), will reopen on February 18 with a group exhibition “Practise Till We Meet.” The center has been closed for nearly three years following the outbreak of Covid-19 and controversies concerning its staff and lack of diversity.
Departing from CFCCA’s previous focus on Chinese artists, the rebranded esea contemporary aims to provide a creative platform for “artists and art practices that identify with and are informed by East and Southeast Asian (ESEA) cultural backgrounds.” Director Xiaowen Zhu explained that the new name demonstrates their “profound trust in the ESEA community” and that these changes stemmed “from a collective will to redefine and re-envision the organisation’s purpose and mission.”
Guest curated by independent curator and writer Hanlu Zhang, the reopening exhibition “Practise Till We Meet” will delve into the experiences of diaspora and the obstacles faced by immigrants after moving to a new environment. The show will feature newly commissioned works by London-based group Asia-Art-Activism; research collective Asian Feminist Studio for Art and Research; Mauritian photographer Audrey Albert; Hong Kong performance artist Isaac Chong Wai; Japanese video artist Koki Tanaka; Chinese artist Liu Weiwei; and multimedia artist Mimian Hsu. The participants will also host events at esea contemporary’s new Communal Project Space, which will expand on their works throughout the exhibition period.
Founded in 1986 and previously known as the CFCCA, the organization receives public funds from Arts Council England and Greater Manchester Combined Authority for its operation. In March 2020, artist JJ Chan withdrew their participation from a group exhibition after the sudden departure of curator Tiffany Leung, one of the only two non-White staff on the CFCCA’s team of 13 at the time. In an open letter, Chan expressed concerns about the gallery’s imbalanced staff structure and overwhelmingly white Eurocentric perspective while presenting Chinese art, which led to a series of debates with seven more artists calling for others to boycott the center. In response to these disputes, in August 2021, CFCCA’s board undertook an audit to investigate the issues and recruit new staff.
Qin Wang is ArtAsiaPacific’s editorial intern.