Director’s letter

Dear esea contemporary Community,

It is with great pleasure that we relaunch esea contemporary, previously known as the Centre for Chinese Contemporary Art, 36 years after its birth as an artist-initiated, community-oriented arts festival in Manchester. Today esea contemporary, based in Manchester’s Northern Quarter, remains a unique art centre in the UK dedicated to presenting and platforming art practices that identify with and are informed by East and Southeast Asian (ESEA) cultural experiences. 

This critical transformation grew out of a collective will to redefine and re-envision our organisation’s purpose and mission, considering the significance of representing the ESEA community’s distinct and complex, yet historically sidelined, voice through contemporary art. From early 2021 to late 2022, our organisation temporarily closed to restructure and regenerate. The process started with recruiting our Board of Trustees, followed by senior management, new talent to join our team and, most recently, forming an Artistic Advisory Panel. 

In June 2022, amid this vigorous transformation, I had the privilege to join the then-named CFCCA as Director. Having lived and worked in Shanghai, New York, Los Angeles, London, and Berlin, I myself embody a hybrid identity familiar with the challenges of crossing borders, switching languages, learning new customs, finding communities, and setting up homes. And within this process I often find myself with more questions than answers. In fact, new questions keep rising, like waves. As artists and cultural practitioners, we understand that the core of artmaking involves asking important questions. It is the ways in which we explore and express these inquiries that make our work relevant and meaningful. While we may not always find answers, we will find refuge, and each other.

In this spirit, our team has been working assiduously to develop our new direction, which is more engaging, dynamic, and boundary-pushing. Through ongoing public engagements in 2022, such as the ‘EXCHANGES’ programme – which spurs communal expression and creates a space for participants to metabolise collective energies, and through workshops and focus groups, we have collaborated with a wide range of creative thinkers and stakeholders and decided collectively to rename our organisation esea contemporary.

The centre’s new name indicates our profound trust in the ESEA community. As a regenerated organisation, we strive to empower artists, curators, academics, and cultural practitioners whose work reflects, investigates, and is informed by topics pertinent to the ESEA community at large. Archiving and conveying community stories and memories are responsibilities close to our hearts, as they contribute to an inclusive cultural ecology and compassionate worldview – both needed more than ever in today’s climate of uncertainty.

On this note, we are thrilled to present esea contemporary’s inaugural exhibition ‘Practise Till We Meet’. Guest curated by Hanlu Zhang, it features works by Koki Tanaka, Audrey Albert, Asia-Art-Activism (AAA), Isaac Chong Wai, Liu Weiwei, Asian Feminist Studio for Art and Research (AFSAR), and Mimian Hsu. The exhibition delves into “diasporic experiences and the condition of migration”, and “not only presents but also creates encounters.” It is a project in which “artists, researchers, and activists strive to carve a space for voices from minority communities as well as for larger social justice issues.” (Hanlu Zhang)

I encourage you to experience the exhibition, which is completely free to all. In addition, our newly converted Communal Project Space will evolve throughout the exhibition’s duration as a space for sharing, co-learning, creating, and resting. It reflects our belief in bringing people together across communities in Manchester, the UK and the world through the interconnectivity and empowerment of the global ESEA diaspora. 

I offer my sincere gratitude to Arts Council England and Greater Manchester Combined Authority for their continued support, and to you, our community, for your patience, resilience, and curiosity.

Xiaowen Zhu, Director
esea contemporary