Grand opening of MOCA Yinchuan brings Islamic art to Northwest China

China’s first museum focusing on contemporary Chinese and Islamic art opens in Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region.

The Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA) Yinchuan’s opening exhibition “Dimension of Civilization” premiered on 8 August 2015. The show includes works from the Museum’s Qing dynasty oil painting and antique maps collections, a community art project and contemporary art from the Middle East. 

Exterior view of MOCA Yinchuan. Photograph courtesy NAARO.

Exterior view of MOCA Yinchuan. Photograph courtesy NAARO.

MOCA Yinchuan, founded by industrialist Liu Wenjin, is located 1107 kilometres northwest of Beijing, in Huaxin-Hetu Art Town. The 18.8 square-kilometre area, built on an organic plantation, includes an artist village and sculpture park. The museum’s 15,000 square-metre building, designed by Wiel Arets Architects (WAA), emulates the continually changing topography found along the banks of the nearby Yellow River. During the planning stage, the complex was known as the Yellow River Arts Centre but has since changed it’s name to reflect its commitment to contemporary art.

Historically, Yinchuan was located along the Silk Road and, as a result, became a “diverse melting pot”. Today, it is the capital of the Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region. It represents a modern-day cultural crossroads, as the permanent home of the China-Arab EXPO, a bi-annual event bringing Chinese and Arab officials together to discuss topics such as culture, education and tourism. In this significant location, MOCA Yinchuan seeks to promote cultural, educational and research opportunities between East and West with the support of the Ningxia Minsheng Culture and the Arts Foundation. According to an introduction found on the museum’s website:

Yinchuan is a window to the Arab and Islamic world, and as such, has the potential to bring Islamic culture to China and to enrich the cultural industries of China’s west.

Every two years, a special exhibition will be unveiled, representing an offering from one of China-Arab EXPO’s 60 guest nations. For the museum’s initial exhibition, Jordan is being featured.

Halim Al Karim, 'Witness from Baghdad 1 (triptych)', 2008, installation shot from "Between East and West - Chinese and Islamic Contemporary Art" exhibition at MOCA Yinchuan, August to December 2015. Photograph by Janet Rady.

Halim Al Karim, ‘Witness from Baghdad 1 (triptych)’, 2008, installation shot from “Between East and West – Chinese and Islamic Contemporary Art” exhibition at MOCA Yinchuan, August to December 2015. Photograph by Janet Rady.

Inaugural Exhibition

MOCA Yinchuan’s inaugural exhibition consists of six segments, which will be on display through 6 December 2015. They include:

  • “Between East and West – Chinese and Islamic Contemporary Art”
  • “Accommodation of Vision – Early Chinese Western-style Paintings”
  • “The Outline of Territory – Historical Map Collection”
  • “Very Contemporary Jordan – the Contemporary Art of Jordan”
  • “Re-folk – Transformed Traditional Elements of Contemporary Art”
  • “Tale of Dolls – Magic Hall of Mirrors”

The individual components of the exhibition have been curated by Lu Peng, Hsieh Suchen and Guo Liang. Lu Peng, a well-known name in the Chinese contemporary art scene, is an art historian and curator living in Chengdu. He was one of the primary organisers of the first Guangzhou Triennial (1992) and is the author of several important books on contemporary art in ChinaHsieh Suchen was guest of honour at this year’s China-Arab EXPO.

The exhibition takes a look at cultural exchanges throughout history and offers alternatives on how to support each other in the global community. As curator Lu Peng expresses in the “Between East and West – Chinese and Islamic Contemporary Art” exhibition wall text:

When we discuss the topic of the “Dimension of Civilization”, our aim is simply to push for equal relations between civilizations on the human stage or network – no single point is the centre of civilization, and it is only in this light that we can truly see how souls today stand up to the challenges they face, how humankind can overcome the difficulties of destiny, and how individuals today live in difficulty or happiness in this world.

Mao Tongqiang, 'Seven Stars Embrace the Moon', 2015, mixed media. Image courtesy the artist and MOCA Yinchuan.

Mao Tongqiang, ‘Seven Stars Embrace the Moon’, 2015, mixed media. Image courtesy the artist and MOCA Yinchuan.

A Spiritual Exchange

As MOCA Yinchuan represents China’s first museum focusing on Chinese and Islamic contemporary art, it remains to be seen if it will provide a platform for the Chinese audience to address its relationships with its various minority populations – similar to what the new Arab Museum of Contemporary Art in Israel is seeking to accomplish. This is no small task, as China has over 50 ethnic minority groups, with tensions between several, including the Islamic Uyghurs. Regardless, MOCA Yinchuan is providing an important opportunity for dialogue and a chance to experience a very different culture through contemporary art. As the museum states, it is an idea which cannot come at a more timely and important juncture:

This exhibition re-examines the artistic history of cultural exchange between China and the West to promote a spiritual exchange between China and the world at a time of unprecedented fusion.

 Lisa Pollman

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Related Topics: art and the community, Chinese artists, Middle Eastern artists, connecting Asia to itself,  Islamic art, museums, news

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