About

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.

esea contemporary is situated in an award-winning building in the heart of Manchester, home to one of the largest East Asian populations in the UK. Since its inauguration as a community-oriented visual arts festival in 1986, esea contemporary – previously named Centre for Chinese Contemporary Art (CFCCA) – has continuously evolved to establish itself as a dynamic and engaging space for cross-cultural exchanges in the British art scene, as well as in a global context. 

esea contemporary aims to increase the visibility of contemporary art practices from the East and Southeast Asian communities and their diasporas. It is a site for forward-thinking art programmes that beyond exhibitions also include commissions, research, residencies, publishing, and a wide range of vibrant public events. esea contemporary values creativity, compassion, interconnectedness, and collectivity in implementing its mission.

Read the Director's Letter here

Mission & Values

Mission

esea contemporary empowers artists, curators, academics, and cultural practitioners whose work reflects, investigates, and is informed by topics that are relevant to the East and Southeast Asian (ESEA) community at large.

esea contemporary’s boundary-pushing programming is dedicated to presenting and commissioning exceptional artistic productions to spur dynamic critical exchanges across cultures and communities, while engaging with local and global audiences. 

In addition, esea contemporary offers distinct opportunities to inspire and elevate the next generation of art professionals and facilitate public interactions. The organisation archives and conveys community stories and memories to ensure an inclusive cultural ecology and compassionate worldview. In all its activities, it explores and initiates new ways of displaying, communicating, and researching ESEA contemporary art through inventive and collaborative approaches.  

Values

Creativity

The organisation values creativity as a language with which to communicate experiences across diverse cultural backgrounds and enrich the lives of local and global audiences.
Compassion

esea contemporary approaches the presentation and contextualisation of artistic production with care and empathy, and supports the community in which it is embedded, as well as its outstanding team and dedicated partners. 
Collectivity

The organisation champions contemporary art practices from the ESEA community and its diasporas, and advocates for a wide representation of its evolving lived experiences. 
Inter-connectedness

esea contemporary promotes transcultural engagement by bringing people together across communities in the UK and the world through the empowerment of the global ESEA diaspora.
Photograph of Chun-Chao Chiu installing 'Heart Sutra' exhibition, 2001.
Photograph of Chun-Chao Chiu installing 'Heart Sutra' exhibition, 2001. Chiu spent two weeks at the Chinese Arts Centre on Edge Street writing the Heart Sutra, one of two major Buddhist prayers, on sheets of rice paper that covered all wall and window surfaces in the gallery. Chiu is now based in the North East of England.

History & Building

History

The institution’s story begins in 1986, with a community-oriented visual arts festival which took place under the name Chinese View ’86. It was organised by Hong Kong artist Amy Lai to raise awareness of Chinese culture in Manchester and reconnect the local community with Chinese arts and crafts.

Three years later, recognising a growing need in the community for wider representation, the Chinese Arts Centre (CAC) opened its doors in Chinatown. It held its first large-scale contemporary art survey in 1992, conveying the experiences of second and third generation British Chinese artists. In 1996, the CAC relocated to Edge Street, in Manchester’s Northern Quarter, with a new emphasis on bringing contemporary Chinese art and artists to larger audiences.

The CAC received funding from Arts Council England to develop a purpose-built site, which opened its doors in 2003. The centre’s RIBA Award-winning permanent venue in the Northern Quarter was designed to incorporate elements of Chinese architecture while respecting the historic Smithfield Market Hall’s original features. In its new home, the CAC extended its work across Britain, increasing the visibility of the UK’s Chinese artistic community.

The organisation continued to evolve, becoming an important international hub for Chinese contemporary art. In 2013, it was renamed Centre for Chinese Contemporary Art (CFCCA) to reflect this ethos. The CFCCA established a partnership with the University of Salford Art Collection to develop a unique collection of Chinese Contemporary Art. With funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund, CFCCA also launched an online archive, providing access to the art centre’s Archive and Library.

After a period of redevelopment and transformation, the organisation relaunched with a new identity and mission in 2023, to platform artists and art practices that are informed by East and Southeast Asian (ESEA) experiences under its new name esea contemporary. With this unique focus, esea contemporary acknowledges the connections and shared experiences of East and Southeast Asian communities and their diasporas, and aims to widen access to contemporary art practices that explore and engage with those identities. 

Building

esea contemporary is housed in a former wholesale fish market, which was historically part of Smithfield Market Hall from 1873. Now a Grade II listed building and part of Manchester's lively Northern Quarter, the gallery was designed by Manchester’s OMI Architects, which won the RIBA Award for Design Excellence in 2004. 

Board of Trustees

Nick Buckley Wood, Chair

Of mixed Chinese and British heritage, Nick Buckley Wood was raised in both Hong Kong and London. He is Director Private Sales, Sotheby’s Asia and Asia Director at Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac, one of Europe's leading contemporary art galleries. He previously held the position of Director at Pearl Lam Galleries, a commercial gallery with spaces in Hong Kong, Singapore, and Shanghai, which works with a roster of contemporary international artists to promote cultural dialogue between East and West.  

aaajiao

aaajiao is a Shanghai and Berlin-based media artist, blogger, activist, and programmer. Many of aaajiao’s works speak to new discourses, controversies, and Internet phenomena, with projects focusing on the processing of data, the blogsphere, and China’s “Great Fire Wall.” His work has been featured in numerous exhibitions around the world. In 2014 he was awarded the Art Sanya Awards Jury Prize and was nominated for the first edition of OCAT-Pierre Huber Art Prize.

Patrick Alexander

Patrick Alexander is the Head of Marketing and International Development at Manchester Airport. Prior to his current role, he served in various positions within the Manchester Airports Group (MAG), the UK’s third biggest airport, since 2005. 

Philomena Chen

Philomena Chen is Head of Asia Pacific at the Department for International Trade, Northern Powerhouse region in the UK. She has over 30 years of experience working with commercial companies and in government organisations in Southeast Asia and in the UK. Through her career, Philomena worked across finance, human resource management, sales and marketing. She holds strong networks and collaborative partnerships in diverse international environments across Asia, Europe and the Americas.

Christopher Yen Sing Lau 

Chris Lau is the International Markets Lead for the West Midlands Growth Company (WMGC) in Birmingham, responsible for attracting foreign investment and strengthening the region’s international relationships. Lau manages a network of In Market Reps across eleven overseas markets, including Australia, Canada, Germany, India, Southeast Asia, and the United States. Formerly Head of Inward Investment for Gloucestershire, Lau was previously Manager of Strategic Investor Relations at the British Consulate Hong Kong, and helped oversee some of the world’s largest capital investors on behalf of Manchester and the Northern Powerhouse region.

Simon Li

Simon Li is Chairman of China Alliance Group Limited. He is an ACCA certified accountant, and was awarded its highest FCCA status. Li has over 26 years of experience in the finance industry, including senior finance roles in Wanda Group, Peel Holding, and Sharp Electronics. Li’s area of expertise includes property investment, football, and education. He works closely with the UK government to attract inward investment from China and Southeast Asia. In his spare time, he helps charities, churches, local communities, and schools to promote cultural events such as Chinese New Year celebrations, Moon Festivals, and sports events.

Yung Ma

Yung Ma is Curator at the Hayward Gallery in London, and was the Artistic Director for the 11th Seoul Mediacity Biennale, which took place at the Seoul Museum of Art (SeMA) in 2021. Previously, Ma served as Curator of the Contemporary Art and Prospective Creation Department at the Centre Pompidou in Paris. He also held the position of Associate Curator of Moving Image at M+, Hong Kong, where he developed the institution’s moving image collection. Ma was twice Co-Curator of the Hong Kong Pavilion at the Venice Biennale, in 2009 and 2013.

Bonnie Yeung

Bonnie Yeung is from the third generation of the Yeung family behind a Manchester institution, the veritable restaurant Yang Sing. She has worked toward modernising Yang Sing and developing partnerships with the city’s cultural and charitable organisations. Bonnie is a passionate Sino-Mancunian, proud of her cross-cultural heritage and is an active member of the Manchester Chinese community.

Staff Team

Xiaowen Zhu – Director

Xiaowen Zhu has worked internationally in Shanghai, New York, Los Angeles, London and Berlin as a director, author and lecturer. She was previously Assistant Director at Times Art Center Berlin and has conceived exhibitions with established and emerging artists from all over the world. Zhu is the author of Oriental Silk (Hatje Cantz, 2020) and Encounters (Shanghai Educational Publishing House, 2022). She is a prolific speaker and has lectured about contemporary art and culture at universities around the world. Zhu has been featured in Apollo magazine’s 2022 list of 40 Under 40 Asia Pacific Thinkers.

Huina Zhang – Chief Operating Officer

Huina Zhang’s experience includes managing several art galleries and charity organisations, and working on art auctions at Sotheby’s and China Exchange UK. She holds a Master’s degree in museum management. Her career in Chinese contemporary art began in 2006, working with well-recognised Chinese artists and emerging voices at galleries in Beijing‘s Caochangdi Art District. 

Si ieng Fung – Executive Assistant

A creative practitioner with a background in mixed media art, Si ieng Fung has been involved with numerous community-oriented arts events, including 6 million+ and Journeys Festival International, Manchester. She has run workshops in community spaces, and has taken part in a wide variety of commissions and art engagement projects.

Dot Zhihan Jia – Associate Curator

Dot Zhihan Jia’s curatorial research and practice focuses on decolonial, feminist modes of storytelling and togetherness. Previously she was an associate lecturer in critical studies at Goldsmiths, University of London. She is a working-group member of the Feminist Duration Reading Group and a co-founder of Chán magazine.

Sisi Liu – Finance Manager

Sisi Liu co-develops the centre’s annual operating budget together with the senior leadership team and looks after the organisation’s day-to-day financial management. She is an affiliate of the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA) and holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Business Economics from the Manchester Metropolitan University.

Ella Luo – Community Development and Engagement Manager (she/her)

Ella Luo has worked with communities across all walks of life and localities, from rural Scotland to Venice, Italy. She worked in art galleries, museums, and historic houses around the UK before returning to her native Manchester to support and connect with local communities, and the East and Southeast Asian diaspora.

Geoff Tabbron – Technical Coordinator

Geoff Tabbron has worked in a variety of technical roles, gaining a wide range of experience in providing IT and audio-visual support and delivering live events. During his 13 years at the British Council, he organised a monthly Japanese film night and, more recently, worked as an event crew member.

Katie Waring – Archivist

As the institution’s archivist, Katie Waring is responsible for overseeing and managing esea contemporary’s publicly accessible archival records and library collections. She has over 20 years of experience in the archival sector under her belt, having worked in different repositories in London and the North West.

Artistic Advisory Panel

esea contemporary’s Artistic Advisory Panel provides advice, expertise, and assistance to the centre’s leadership and staff team on its diverse programmes and operations. The Artistic Advisory Panel helps to ensure the organisation’s success in forging new ways and networks to contextualise and present contemporary art of ESEA heritage, and in fostering access to critical and groundbreaking visual arts through community and public engagements. 

Professor Jiang Jiehong

Professor Jiang Jiehong is Head of Research at School of Art and Director of the Centre for Chinese Visual Arts, Birmingham City University, and Principal Editor of the Journal of Contemporary Chinese Art (Intellect Books). Jiang has published numerous books on contemporary Chinese art and visual culture. He curated the fourth Guangzhou Triennial (with Jonathan Watkins, 2012); the third Asia Triennial Manchester (2014); ‘The Shadow Never Lies’ (with Mark Nash, Shanghai Minsheng Art Museum, 2016); ‘The Distant Unknown: Contemporary Art from Britain’ (OCAT Shanghai, 2016); and the First Thailand Biennale (Krabi, 2018–2019), among other exhibitions.

Davide Quadrio

Davide Quadrio is Director of MAO Museum of Asian Art, Turin and a visiting professor in the Visual Art and Fashion department at IUAV, Venice. From 1998-2010, Quadrio founded and directed Shanghai’s first non-profit creative lab, the BizArt Art Centre. In 2007 he established the platform Arthub Asia and organised numerous exhibitions and exchange projects with international institutions. He was the artistic director of Bund18 creative space, Shanghai, from 2005–2008 and curated the Chinese iteration of the Victoria and Albert Museum’s exhibition on Vivienne Westwood and Droog Design’s itinerant show in Shanghai, Shenzhen, and Beijing.

Wenny Teo

Wenny Teo is a writer, curator, and Senior Lecturer at the Courtauld Institute of Art specialising in modern and contemporary art with an emphasis on China and Chinese diasporas. She was previously a curator at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Shanghai, and assistant curator at Tate Modern. Teo co-curated ‘A Beautiful Disorder’ at Cass Sculpture Foundation, Chichester (2016), and was Associate Curator of the eighth Shenzhen Sculpture Biennial (2014). Her writing has appeared in academic journals, exhibition catalogues, and art magazines, and she serves on several editorial boards, including Oxford Art Journal, for which she is also Book Reviews Editor (post-1800s). 

Yibing Wang

Yibing Wang is a Fellow at the School of Arts Media and Creative Technology (SAMCT) at the University of Salford. With a background in art history and education, her research applies methodology from the social sciences to develop new critical frameworks for art education and wider interdisciplinary engagement. Wang is responsible for partnerships with a variety of Chinese universities and industrial companies. Examples include SAMCT’s educational exhibitions in China and the co-production of a documentary film with Chinese, UK, and EU media partners. Wang supports a growing community of interdisciplinary ESEA scholars through workshops, seminars, and short courses.