The former Centre for Chinese Contemporary Art relaunches as esea contemporary

The centre will reopen to the public on Saturday 18 February with a brand new exhibition.

By Emma Davidson | 17 January 2023

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The Centre for Chinese Contemporary Art Manchester is set to reopen this year under the new name, ‘esea contemporary’.

Located on the corner of Thomas Street in the heart of the Northern Quarter, the centre will re-launch in mid-February with brand new exhibition, Practise Till We Meet, curated by Hanlu Zhang. The centre 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 transformation and re-envisioning of esea contemporary with its new name and identity is led by its new Director, Xiaowen Zhu who was appointed in June 2022. 

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

Curator Hanlu Zhang 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.”

Alongside the debut of Practise Till We Meet, the centre will showcase projects from Manchester-based artists Audrey Albert, Isaac Chong Wai, Koki Tanaka, Liu Weiwei and Mimian Hsu. 

Their work explores themes including belonging, political turmoil, systemic violence, social investigation and Asian diasporic expressions. The esea contemporary will also host works by Asia-Art-Activism and Asian Feminist Studio for Art and Research. 

The rebirth of esea contemporary comes after a difficult couple of years for the Centre for Chinese Contemporary Art. Back in 2021, it was reported that the gallery was embroiled in a racism row, with artists claiming that it had an “entrenched acceptance of racist attitudes”. 

After an extended closure period and an upheaval of its core team, the centre is now reopening with a sense of optimism and a busy calendar of exhibitions celebrating East Asian and Southeast Asian art practises in the city.

Xiaowen Zhu, Director at esea contemporary concluded: “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.”