Statement regarding Centre For Chinese Contemporary Art
Chinese Arts Now (CAN) stands in solidarity with artists Eelyn Lee, Enoch Cheng, Erika Tan, Gayle Chong Kwan, Jack Tan, Whiskey Chow and Yuen Ling Fong who made a statement last week about their experiences as the Artist Working Group for Centre for Chinese Contemporary Art (CFCCA). We acknowledge the courage of the artists in speaking out about the need for change at CFCCA.
As CAN undertook one activity with CFCCA in 2020, we would like to clarify the context of our agreement with the demands of the Artist Working Group.
CAN is one of only three Arts Council England National Portfolio Organisations with a remit focussing on East Asian artists. In March 2020, in the wake of the immediate impact of the pandemic and lockdown, we felt it was important to show solidarity and act together with other NPOs to support the British East and South East Asian artistic community. We did this through a series of digital commissions. One of our digital commissions involved CFCCA as a commissioning partner.
At that time we were not aware that there was no longer anyone of Chinese heritage on the curatorial team at CFCCA. During our discussions, CFCCA brought to our attention an open letter from JJ Chan to CFCCA that referred to the absence of staff of Chinese heritage and called for an open conversation to bring about change. CAN appreciated CFCCA’s transparency and told them that we shared the concerns of the letter. In response:
- We stipulated that CFCCA should have a representative of East Asian heritage to sit on the creative panel to develop the proposed digital commission with CAN. CFCCA agreed a British Chinese member of their programming team would fulfil this role.
- CFCCA assured us that recruitment for a curator was in process with the aim of appointing someone of Chinese heritage.
- CFCCA shared their plans for a revisioning process although details were not yet finalised.
Based on these assurances, given in April 2020, we decided to enter into partnership with CFCCA for the digital commission. In July 2020, the revisioning process was announced but the curator recruitment did not materialise.
On reading the AWG statement and report published last week, we have reflected again on our experiences with CFCCA.
CAN and CFCCA both benefit from being registered charities that “present Chinese art for the public benefit”. CFCCA’s website states that through this art they ‘explore and question the notion of Chineseness’. CAN does not believe it possible to fulfil this key charitable aim without including the involvement of the Chinese community and artists of Chinese heritage living in the UK who have the relevant lived experience. Today, there is still no curatorial or other senior staff of Chinese heritage on the staff of CFCCA and now only one person of Chinese heritage remains on the Board.
Over the last 15 months, Chinese artists have repeatedly taken the time to engage with CFCCA, in good faith, with no evidence of change. CAN believes strongly that authentic representation is vital, especially where public funds are being expended to support the work of particular communities. At a time of anti-Asian sentiment and violence, who chooses who should speak and how, is more important than ever. Authentic representation is essential – it impacts how the rest of society sees the Chinese community and how we are treated.
CAN considers the current set up at CFCCA to be unacceptable. We have resolved that until CFCCA addresses the issues raised, and produces a future plan that includes genuine engagement with the British Chinese community and proper care towards Chinese artists, CAN will not consider any further collaboration with CFCCA.