Could the Global Artworld Afford Diversity?

Yu'an Huang

Curatorial Writing Fellow
Chisenhale Gallery, London

Ziyu Wang, Go Get’em Boy, 2022. Image courtesy of the artist.

As part of a series of reflections by our Fellows, we have partnered with ArtReview to publish a collection of writings that will explore and unlock the future of curatorial and research practice. Here, Yu'an Huang, Curatorial Writing Fellow at Chisenhale Gallery 2021-2022, asks fundamental questions about whether cultures can, in fact, seamlessly assimilate into the wider Western context - and whether this is something worth striving for?

"For the past 20 years, I’ve been moving between Taiwan, Germany and the UK. During that time I have noticed that it is not unusual to experience fatigue when operating in a second language. I am not alone in this experience, and more serious cases develop into xenoglossophobia (a fear of foreign languages), where the anxiety is likely to be connected to difficulties in performing in the new language and the consequent threats to or distortions of one’s self-image.
In London, for example, during a studio visit, I glimpsed a South Korean artist change his tone and posture to one that was far more authoritative when he was joined by a group of acquaintances who shared his cultural background. I had known the artist personally for a while, but at that moment I suddenly realised I had only had limited access to him, to a version of him that he developed after living in the UK.
It’s in response to this that, since 2013, I’ve been providing English-language tutorials for Mandarin speakers involved in contemporary art. The personalised sessions focus on reading essays or working on their artist’s statement. Most recently I helped an internationally recognised artist to relocate to the UK from Taiwan. With this artist’s rich experience of exhibiting abroad, it wasn’t the English language per se that concerned him; rather, what led him to me was his wish to prepare himself for a cultural translation and seek ways to socially connect. To prepare a person entering into an ‘unknown’ or projected social context in which they are seeking to develop a professional artistic engagement, a course should not be limited to the informative but also provide a cultural context in the UK that might allow the artist to navigate and develop themselves with a sense of authenticity.
Moreover, having witnessed the development of some of my students’ journeys towards integration, I see a greater effort needed for men to overcome some of these obstacles. I suspect this is heavily influenced by the conditioning of patriarchy and social hierarchy (based on age and career length) in East Asia. This is not simply to say that an East Asian man has to unlearn their male privilege in order to integrate; rather, it is a process of navigating both a different type of patriarchy and a situation in which the host culture (the West) is seeking to maintain a cultural and racial hierarchy with respect to the East. This creates a conflict.

Click here to read Yu'an Huang's full article for ArtReview, published on 18 August, 2022.