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Friday, April 10, 2015, 09:51

HK curator helps mainland artists go abroad

By An Baijie
HK curator helps mainland artists go abroad

Curator and artist Janet Fong uses personal experience to guide Chinese artists seeking residencies abroad.

Every Chinese artist would like to go to Paris or New York. Hong Kong curator and artist Janet Fong has been there, done that. Now she would like to help fellow artists get the much-needed exposure to the art world outside China.

Fong, who has nearly 18 years’ experience as a curator, gave speeches outlining the Artists in Residence programs in Beijing, Shanghai and Chengdu. The programs, mainly financed by international foundations and funds, provide accommodation and an office to work during their stay abroad and even return airfare to qualified artists from all over the world.

“Through the program, you could live abroad for a period, communicate with local residents and artists, exhibit your works at galleries, and most important, expand your horizon,” she told tens of artists in Beijing last December.

It’s important for Chinese artists to go abroad since it helps them get a better understanding of the differences in value and lifestyle between Eastern and Western art circles, she said.

“For example, Westerners tend to see things in terms of black or white (right or wrong), while there are lots of ‘gray areas’ in Chinese thought,” she said, adding that some Chinese artists who went abroad at the beginning of the program would often feel alienated, thrust suddenly into an unfamiliar society

The good thing about the Artists in Residence programs is that it allows artists, academics and curators to have some time off from their usual surroundings and obligations. Some of them get a full sponsorship, while a few others are only partly covered for expenses. The program could last from two weeks to two years.

The programs have existed for over a century. While Hong Kong-based artists have taken advantage of these fellowships for several decades now, most mainland artists know of the programs only vaguely, said Fong, who has lived in Beijing since 2007.

“It’s partly because of the language difficulties since many talented Chinese artists are not good at speaking English,” she said, adding that language problem should not be a barrier for Chinese artists to go global.

Deng Dafei, an artist from Northeast China’s Liaoning province, said that artists need to prepare well before applying for the Artists in Residence programs. They should at least learn how to express the keywords about their art in English.

Besides, “artists have to make lots of preparations before they start living in a foreign country for a rather long period”, said Deng, who attended a program in Ireland in 2005.

Fong believes mainland artists applying for a place in the Artists in Residence program could take a leaf out of her book. After graduating from the photography department of Hong Kong Polytechnic University in 1998, she studied museum curatorship at the University of Sydney and got a master degree in the history of Chinese art from the University of Sussex in Britain.

“I have the advantage of knowing both Western value and Chinese artists,” she said. During her talks, she meticulously guided Chinese artists on the ways of harnessing information through the Internet, writing up an application and submitting resumes.

Since 2011, Fong has been promoting the Artists in Residence programs on the mainland. When she worked at the Art Museum of the China Central Academy of Fine Art, she initiated a similar program there. Six people from the United States were on the first batch of artists who had a residency in China.

Last year, Fong resigned from the job at the art museum to focus more on helping mainland artists apply for exchange programs.

“Now I am dedicated to this career so that more Chinese artists could broaden their horizons, and artists from abroad could also get a closer look at Chinese arts,” she said.

Wang Xinghua, an artist in Hangzhou, in East China’s Zhejiang province, said that he decided to apply for the Artists in Residence programs after attending Fong’s lecture in Beijing.

“I had never thought of living abroad and being able to talk with foreign artists face to face until I heard Fong’s speech,” he said. “Chinese artists are becoming more open-minded and their voices should be heard by the world,” he added.
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