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Shanghai singer-songwriter A Si is performing at this year’s Modern Sky Festival. Photo: courtesy of Modern Sky Festival

First Creative China Festival promotes young artists overseas, with music, film, art, fashion and design shows across America

The Beijing Contemporary Art Foundation hopes three-month event spanning New York, Boston and Los Angeles will foster collaboration and show the breadth of contemporary Chinese culture

Young artists from China are engaging more with overseas cultural organisations to show their works, yet there are few international events that give a broad look at the complexity of the country’s contemporary culture, according to a prominent Chinese art curator.

Cui Qiao, the president of the Beijing Contemporary Art Foundation, says her organisation aims to foster cultural exchange for “the new generation”, hence its first Creative China Festival, a three-month event staged concurrently in New York, Boston and Los Angeles, featuring movies, a rock festival, fashion and design, contemporary art, and a focus on the city of Nanjing.

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“Young Chinese artists now have a more international outlook,” says Cui. “I have a lot of contact with young artists, and they are very active in the international sphere – not only do they exhibit abroad, they collaborate with institutions in other countries.”

Beijing Contemporary Art Foundation president Cui Qiao.
For instance, the New Museum in New York offers an annual residency for, as it says, “a promising younger Chinese artist”. (The residency is organised by the New Museum in conjunction with the Hong Kong-based K11 Art Foundation.)

“We want to make contact with institutions and instigate new collaborations between individuals and institutions. That’s our idea,” Cui says.

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The Creative China Festival aims to extend such collaborations for young artists and craftspeople into the international sphere, adds Cui.

We want to show the complexity of Chinese culture at the festival, rather than focus on one artistic subject
Cui Qiao

“There are not many international events for the young generation of Chinese, and we want to change that. We want the festival to be a platform that enables young Chinese to collaborate with American institutions and individuals. It is about friendship and cooperation with all sorts of people, independent of their background and education.”

How the festival is put together reflects the reality of Chinese contemporary culture, according to Cui. “Contemporary culture is complicated and formed of different disciplines. In China, everyone is interacting with the different groups. We want to show the complexity of Chinese culture at the festival, rather than focus on one artistic subject.”

The foundation is acting as an umbrella group – or an incubator, as Cui describes it – which brings several events and institutions together under one banner.

A still from the 2017 drama The Conformist, directed by Cai Shangjun. Photo: Fangjin Visual Media Culture Communication (Beijing).
A film series at the Manhattan art house cinema Metrograph is screening five films noir from China. The Modern Sky Festival in Los Angeles and New York this month features rap acts from China, as well as a performance by Hong Kong’s Edison Chen. Cui says there will be fashion and design exhibitions, and a collaboration with Asia Contemporary Art Week that will present the work of artists Song Dong and Yu Fan.

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The festival idea sprang from the philosophy of the Beijing Contemporary Art Foundation, which Cui joined three years ago as president.

“When I joined, we made some reforms to make the foundation focus on more diverse forms of culture, urban culture, and the culture of the new generation,” says Cui, who studied at the Free University of Berlin in Germany.

“We decided that we should start to facilitate international exchange. The foundation has collaborated with different countries – for instance, we curated the China Pavilion at the Venice Biennale in 2015, and have worked with the Locarno Film Festival [in Switzerland]. Our focus is to enable cultural exchange for the younger generation of Chinese.”

Cui says the foundation operates independently of the Chinese government, although it does take grants from the authorities and works with the government on arts projects.

White Horse and Sailor III, 2009, an enamel on bronze sculpture by Qingdao-born artist Yu Fan. Photo: Yu Fan
Networking is the key. “We have academic contacts, governmental contacts, and contact with NGOs and other foundations,” Cui says. “Our network goes above the traditional networking paths of artists who exhibit in America. We have many contacts from different backgrounds and institutions, and cross-cultural collaborations. We are a centre point for different organisations, including the government.”

The Creative China Festival also encourages mixed media collaboration. “At the music festival, some of the musicians will wear clothes made by the fashion designers,” Cui says, “and legendary rock musician Zuixiao Zuzhou will exhibit his paintings at the concert.”

The festival took a year to put together. “We researched local projects to find out what would be an interesting way to show Chinese culture,” Cui says. “We were surprised by the amount of filmmaking and design projects that existed, alongside contemporary art.”

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Cui was on the lookout for independent filmmakers and fashion designers who needed a boost, she says. “Many of them are having a difficult time in China, as they are just starting out. They are not getting a lot of feedback or income – they are struggling to survive.”

The festival aims to highlight artists and creative people who live outside Beijing and Shanghai, Cui says, noting the emergence of a rap music scene in Xian. It also plans to highlight whole cities.

This year, Nanjing Week, organised by the Nanjing city authorities and running till September 13, featured an exhibition in New York’s Grand Central Station as part of the festival.

“Different cities in China offer different traditional and contemporary art and culture, and we want to show that,” Cui says.

This article appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition as: China’s got talent: young creatives blaze a trail in US