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The Centre for Chinese Contemporary Art rebrands as ESEA Contemporary ahead of big reopening next month

ESEA contemporary have rebranded and now reveal their first exhibition for 2023 under the new stewardship of Director Xiaowen Zhu

Esea contemporary is the UK’s only non-profit art centre specialising in presenting and platforming artists and art practices that identify with and are informed by East and Southeast Asian (ESEA) cultural backgrounds.

The art centre, formally known as the Centre For Chinese Contemporary Art (CFCCA), is based in Manchester’s Northern Quarter.

They are all set for a grand re-opening on February 18, with the first exhibition on show being ‘Practice Till we Meet’, curated by Hanlu Zhang.

Showcasing five artists and two collectives, the reopening exhibition ‘Practise Till We Meet’ has been assembled by Hanlu Zhang, an independent curator, writer, and editor interested in art as social practice, with esea contemporary’s curatorial team.

New, commissioned and existing works will be shown by: Asia-Art-Activism (AAA), Asian Feminist Studio for Art and Research (AFSAR), Audrey ALBERT, Isaac CHONG Wai, Koki TANAKA, LIU Weiwei, and Mimian HSU.

‘Practise Till We Meet’ explores diasporic experiences, the condition of migration, and the challenges and actions taken to create a just life in a new place.

Personal and political, traumatic and humorous, it looks across geography and through generations to consider how individual and community perspectives become intertwined with global upheavals.

The participating artists incorporate approaches such as community engagement, performance,  interactivity and social experiment in their works as exercises of connecting and reconnecting. 

Works include moving image, installations, wall works, videos, paintings and a newly commissioned sculpture.

The artists and collectives will hold events at esea contemporary’s new Communal Project Space, creating displays which grow and change throughout the exhibition. 

Hanlu Zhang, Curator said: “For migrants, understanding how to act in unfamiliar experiences requires practice. By witnessing or even participating in these necessary and emotionally motivated exercises, new perspectives and knowledge of this world open up to all of us.

“The works show personal desires and family histories becoming intertwined with political upheavals. Some self-educate on topsy-turvy journeys searching for memory and belonging; others practise care, tenderness, and affection, collaboratively forging solid paths in a world in crisis.”

Here are the profiles of the artists on display:

Asia-Art-Activism (AAA) is dedicated to continuously re-examining the discursive paradigm of ‘Asia’ and ‘British Asian’ art and history through organising exhibitions, events and everyday practice. They achieve so by building a transnational and intergenerational community around topics such as migration, care and activism. 

Founded in 2020, Asian Feminist Studio for Art and Research (AFSAR) is a decentralised network of artists, curators and scholars. They offer an open platform for people from diverse backgrounds to share lived narratives and expressions about the Asian diaspora with feminist vision. 

Manchester-based Audrey ALBERT will present her photo series ‘Matter Out of Place’ and participatory workshop ‘Chagossians of Manchester’. Albert, a native of the island of Mauritius, with Chagossian origins, rebuilds a collective sense of belonging through food, objects, oral history and community art. 

Isaac CHONG Wai looks at the history of protests and invites performers to reenact some moments in it with slowness and stillness in ‘Rehearsal of the Futures: Is the world your friend?’. Chong’s new installation adopts the imagery of two and three-legged chairs, tracing the political turmoil and conflicts of the past decades in the UK-Hong Kong-China relationship.

Koki TANAKA’s work asks the question of ‘how to live together with difference’. ‘Vulnerable Histories (A Road Movie)’ invites two young people of culturally hybrid backgrounds to embark on a study trip together to learn about the discrimination and systematic violence towards the Korean diaspora in Japan. 

LIU Weiwei’s practice combines social investigation, social engagement and experimental documentary. His ongoing project ‘Australia’ takes the artist’s brother’s impulse to leave China to live in Australia and turns this personal dilemma into a series of collaborative or public events.

Mimian HSU’s practice explores Asian diasporic expressions and how they are defined by the mutually-shaping processes between familial and national histories. Her work responds to living in Central America with a Taiwanese cultural background.

Xiaowen Zhu, Director, esea contemporary said: “It’s with great pleasure to be relaunching esea contemporary 36 years after its birth as an artist-initiated, community-oriented arts festival in Manchester. The centre’s new name indicates our profound trust in the ESEA community and this significant transformation has grown from a collective will to redefine and re-envision the organisation’s purpose and mission. Working with Hanlu Zhang to present this inaugural exhibition represents our responsibility to show, archive and convey contemporary ESEA community stories and memories. The Board and team are excited to welcome visitors into the relaunched gallery in February.”

Yung Ma, Trustee for esea contemporary and Curator at the Hayward Gallery said: “The re-envisioning of esea contemporary is an important step towards building a space for ESEA practitioners in the visual arts. With Manchester’s growing international ESEA community, the relaunch of the centre is also an incredible opportunity to present, support and engage the public in discussions around international artists and their practice. It has been a delight to support our new Director Xiaowen, and I am excited for Xiaowen and her excellent new team to share their vision with audiences in Manchester and beyond.”

Jennifer Cleary, Director North, Arts Council England said “I’m looking forward to visiting esea contemporary in February and experiencing its new vision under the directorship of Xiaowen Zhu. I’m sure that the exciting and thought-provoking programme for 2023 will attract both local people and visitors alike, and I look forward to seeing how the organisation develops into the future.”

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