kurimanzutto is proud to present A Story of a Merchant, a research-based speculative exhibition that intertwines personal narratives, travelogs, historical artifacts, newly commissioned artworks, fictional characters, and architectural interventions curated by X Zhu-Nowell and Chao Jiaxing.
Taking inspiration from a conference held in Kingston, Jamaica, in 2022, co-organized by X Zhu-Nowell and the artist and writer Kandis Williams, this exhibition continues the quest to establish a shared language that challenges preconceived notions when exploring what Lisa Lowe refers to as "the intimacy of four continents." By examining the intertwined histories of indenture and colonial violence in Asia, the Caribbean, and the Americas through the life trajectories of Chinese merchants, the exhibition illuminates the shared experiences of the Chinese diaspora across various regions. The exhibition sheds light on these diverse landscapes, from the historic Tepito market in Mexico City and Chinatown in San Francisco to Barry Street in Kingston and Yiwu in China. Using the fictional character of the Chinese merchant, "SHUI Ma," as a heuristic tool, the exhibition charts a new cartography of complex geographies, exploring realms of fantasy, memory, conspiracy, and recollection.
The exhibition brings together works by Bhenji Ra, BirdHead group, BOLOHO collective, Candice Lin, CHEN Zhen, Damián Ortega, DING Yi, Dr. Lakra, Gabriel Orozco, Haegue Yang, HAO Liang, HU Yinping, Kandis Williams, Miguel Covarrubias, Minerva Cuevas, PENG Zuqiang, Richard Fung, "SAN Yu”, TAN Jing, YANG Fudong, and YAO Qingmei.
About the curators
X Zhu-Nowell is a curator, writer, and institutional leader who lives and works between New York and Shanghai. In Feb 2023, X Zhu-Nowell joined Rockbund Art Museum, the leading contemporary art museum in Shanghai as its Artistic Director. X Zhu-Nowell was a curator at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York since 2014, where they have led important acquisition activities, exhibition projects, research initiatives, and institution-building processes within the museum. X Zhu-Nowell is invested in curatorial activities of varying scales, durations, and forms, responding to specific contexts and conditions. Their recent collaborated artists include Shubigi Rao, Tan Jing, Tosh Basco, Diane Severin Nguyen, Evelyn Taocheng Wang, WangShui, Wu Tsang, Kandis Williams, Nick Cave, Jacolby Satterwhite, Tourmaline, Sin Wai Kin, Irena Haiduk, Adrián Villar Rojas, NZTT Sewing Co-Op, Hugh Hayden, Saodat Ismailova, Every Ocean Hughes, Farah Al Qasimi, Goutam Ghosh, Li Shuang, Jonathas de Andrade, Heman Chong among other. X Zhu-Nowell has lectured widely on exhibition histories and institutional practices (or the lack of), focusing on artist interventions in Asia and the diaspora.
CHAO Jiaxing is an independent curator and researcher based in Shanghai, From 2011 to 2015, CHAO Jiaxing served as the curator and managing director at V ART CENTER, a non-profit space founded by the Shanghai Institute of Visual Arts. From 2017 to 2019, she was the senior curator at Start Museum, located in the West Bund district of Shanghai. Her current research and curatorial interests focus on cross-disciplinary art practices and rituals as methods in contemporary East Asian art. Her recent curatorial project series "Rituals in the Rituals of Future," relies on slow, performative preliminary research for collective creations. In 2019, she was awarded the ACC Residency Fellowship at the Asia Culture Center in Gwangju, South Korea, and also received a Travel Grant to attend the CIMAM 2019 Annual Conference in Sydney, Australia. In 2022, she received the Research Trip Grant from Pro Helvetia and participated in the Tokyo Arts and Space ( TOKAS) Research Residency. In 2021, she edited the publication "Under Construction: A History of Shanghai Art Institutions, 2008-2016." Her most recent exhibition, " Two Stops after Golden Tea Room," was held at the Ulsan Art Museum in South Korea. She also served as a mentor on the Expert Panel for the Julius Baer Next Generation Art Prize in 2023.
Bhenji Ra (1990 en Warrang / Sidney) is a performance and interdisciplinary artist currently based on the stolen land of the Gadigal people of the Eora nation, Sydney. Her practice combines dance, choreography, moving image, installation and club events.
Birdhead group is a photographic collective founded in 2004, consisting of JI Weiyu (Chinese, born 1980) and SONG Tao (Chinese, born 1979). They have been working in the medium of analogue photography since it was established in 2004. The name "Birdhead" came from a random keystroke for film naming.
BOLOHO collective is a Cantonese romanization of the Chinese word for “jackfruit core,” the collective was initiated by BUBU (LIU Jiawen) and CAT (HUANG Wanshan) in 2019, with ZHU Jianlin, LI Zhiyong, and FONG Waiking joining later as full members.
Candice Lin (Concord, 1979) is an interdisciplinary artist, her recent solo exhibitions include the exhibition cycle A Hard White Body at Bétonsalon, Paris; Portikus, Frankfurt; and the Logan Center for the Arts, University of Chicago; as well as solo exhibitions at Francois Ghebaly, Los Angeles; Ludlow38, New York; and Gasworks, London.
CHEN Zhen was born in 1955 in Shanghai. He earned a BFA from the Shanghai School of Arts and Crafts (1973) and an MFA from the Shanghai Drama Institute (1978) before moving to Paris in 1986, where he studied at the École Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts. Working primarily as a sculptor and installation artist, Chen participated in several historic exhibitions that mark the rise of global contemporary art.
With his sense of wit and humor, Damián Ortega deconstructs familiar objects and processes, altering their functions and transforming them into novel experiences and scenarios. Ortega’s work plays with a scale that ranges from the molecular to the cosmic, as the art critic Guy Brett says, Ortega combines the cosmic with the accidental, applying the concepts of physics to human interactions where chaos, accidents and instability produce a system of relations in flux.
DING Yi’s (Shanghai 1962) career includes studies in decorative arts at the Shanghai School of Arts & Crafts, a position as a designer in a toy factory, and studies in traditional Chinese painting at Shanghai University. The diversity of this background has been reflected, in his work, in the simultaneous coexistence of a high degree of apparent mechanization, repetition and precision, along with a creative impulse towards novelty and formal experimentation.
The work of Jerónimo López Ramírez (Mexico City 1972), better known as Dr. Lakra, is characterized by irreverent and provocative images that transgress established norms, leaving the viewer teetering between attraction and repulsion. While he is best known for his drawings and paintings on appropriated posters, erotic magazines and postcards, his practice encompasses mural painting, collage and sculpture.
Working through drawing, photography, sculpture and installation, Orozco draws from everyday materials and circumstances from his own encounters and routines. Playing with ideas of accessibility, his work revolves around recurrent themes and explores materials with multiplicity that allows the viewer’s imagination to discover creative associations between aspects of everyday life often overlooked or ignored.
Haegue Yang (Seoul, 1971) seeks to communicate without language in a primordial and visual way: often complementing her vocabulary of visual abstraction with sensory experiences that include scent, sound, light and tactility. Combining industrial fabrication and folk craftsmanship, Yang explores the affective power of materials in destabilizing the distinction between the modern and pre-modern.
HAO Liang was born in Chengdu, China, (1983) and lives and works in Beijing. His first exposure to art came at an early age through his godmother’s father, a noted collector of Chinese art who studied under Zhang Daqian, perhaps the most prominent Chinese artist of the twentieth century. (Zhang, a master of guohua painting, died in 1983—the year of Hao’s birth.) Hao enrolled at the Sichuan Fine Arts Institute, Chongqing, in 2002, majoring in Chinese painting, and graduated with a master’s degree from there in 2009. He considered becoming a teacher, but at the encouragement of fellow artist Xu Lei, decided to pursue painting.
HU Yinping was born in Sichuan in 1983, and currently lives and works in Beijing. Despite earning her MFA at the Central Academy of Fine Arts in 2010, her works are not limited to the materiality of sculpture. Instead, she channels chance meetings and fortuitous situations into insightful scenarios. Hu Yinping defines her art as a state between “event” and “work”, implying a deep connection between artistic practice and real life.
Kandis Williams’s (born in 1985 in Baltimore) versatile practice spans collage, performance, assemblage, publishing, and curating. Her work explores and deconstructs critical theory, addressing issues of race, nationalism, authority, and eroticism. Her meticulously compiled collages are densely layered, both in structure—through repetition of forms and figures—and in content, with an emphasis on politically loaded and libidinal images.
Miguel Covarrubias, born in 1904 and died in 1957, was a painter and draftsman. He created popular caricatures for Vanity Fair and the New Yorker and wrote and illustrated books on his travels. His interest in the ethnology and archaeology of Mexico led to his assembling a remarkable collection of pre- Columbian art, which was willed to the Mexico City National Museum of Anthropology.
Minerva Cuevas (Mexico City, 1975) finds the raw material for her work in the anaylsis of the notions of value, exchange, and property inherent to the capitalist system and its social consequence, and the latent possibility for rebellion that exists within everyday life.
PENG Zuqiang (Changsha, 1992) works with film, video and installations. Exhibitions and screenings include Cell Project Space, E-Flux screening room, Times Museum, UCCA Beijing, 25FPS, IDFA, Antimatter, and Open City Doc Festival. He has received fellowships and residencies from IAS CEU, MacDowell, Skowhegan, and the Core Program.
Richard Fung (Port of Spain, 1954) is an artist and writer born in Trinidad and based in Toronto. His work comprises challenging videos on subjects ranging from the role of the Asian male in gay pornography to colonialism, immigration, racism, homophobia, AIDS, justice in Israel/Palestine, and his own family history.
Hailing from Szechuan Province, China, Sanyu (常玉) 1895-1966 was among the first generation of Chinese artists to study and settle in Europe. His life and oeuvre was characterised by liminality—a fusion of Eastern and Western traditions, informed by his training in traditional Chinese painting and calligraphy and inspired by the new Modernist trends he encountered in Paris that defined his work. After decades of obscurity, both during and after his life, Sanyu is today regarded as one of the most significant and earliest Chinese modernists.
TAN Jing (Shenzhen, 1992) obtained her BA in Chelsea College of Art in 2015 and her MA at the Royal College of Art in 2017. Tan is keen on experimenting with textures, materials, and form within sculpture and installation. Her practice combines her expertise in the unpredictable composition of materials and techniques, with her whimsical intertwist of elements from biology and folklore.
YANG Fudong was born in 197 1 in Beijing. He currently lives and works in Shanghai. Since the late 1990s Yang Fudong has developed a significant body of work mainly in film, installation and photography. He is considered one of China’s most important contemporary artists. Yang’s visual language has always been enveloped in a dream-like mystery.
YAO Qingmei (Zhejiang, 1982) currently lives and works in Wenzhou and Paris. She achieved DNSEP with honors from Villa Arson, Nice, France in 2013, and was awarded the winner of Prix spécial du jury at the 59th Salon de Montrouge in 2014 in France, the Prize “ Young Chinese Artist of the Year”in 2017 in China, the 68th Prix Jeune Création of Paris in 2018 and Asian Cultural Council New York Fellowship in 2022.