Speaking Classically

Last Thursday at the Library of Birmingham saw the launch of a new exhibition about Chinese classical literature, arts practice and community engagement. It could be any community; such was the fundamental nature of the themes that came together in this remarkable celebration of community; the practice of art and the transformative nature of classical storytelling. However, in this case, we’re very much talking about the Chinese Community in Birmingham with its rich tradition of art and storytelling. The day itself (5 March) was also World book day so the storytelling theme was especially poignant.  

In this elegantly curated exhibition, Joey Chin, Leah Lovett and Frances Yeung are the three artists who have joined creative forces to stage an exploration of how three Chinese classical stories still weave a web of connectivity through time and emerge relevant and bold in the amphitheatre of 21st-century community dialogue.  

Speaking during the launch event, Frances Yeung asserts that art practice is not the preserve of the select few. It is the very essence of the “story behind the story” – the purest expression of our humanity and a powerful means of connecting with tomorrow and yesterday by embracing our “now” in the “doing” of art. It’s a powerful insight from the mind of an artist whose extraordinary talents were clear to see in the form of a striking and memorable piece at the exhibition. A metamorphic piece that appears suspended in space and time and changes form depending on the angle from which it is viewed.

When the world around us doesn’t make sense anymore, we might just find the inspiration we need in a classical story

Frances Yeung

The mood music at the launch event was inescapably evocative of humanity expressed through the medium of story, transcending of time and place.  In stark counterpoint, the exhibition itself in the words of Leah Lovett is very much a work in progress. We, the viewing public, are reminded of our role in the practice art which is to complete the work through our viewing and thus taking our rightful place in the creative process. 

The exhibition was curated by Dr Rachel Marsden who reminded us that no such event could ever be the work of one person. Even so, as a curator, she must be applauded for the wonderfully “transcendent yet authentic tangibility” quality of this exhibition.

Photo credit: Philip Choi

Real People in Real Places

Another element that piqued interest is the clear link to what seems like “real people in real places”. It’s community expressing itself most freely and powerfully. So in the creative collaboration process, the artists were in dialogue with members of the Chinese community through workshops and events. One of the items in the exhibition was a drawing of a tree created by a 101-year-old workshop participant. What this illustrates so powerfully is the idea that creativity and connectivity become synonymous through the practice of art. It also says something about the power of story to reach us through time and stay (or become) relevant in the process.

The very act of people coming together to create and connect means they are caring for each other; socially and spiritually. This being a theme that is very noticeable in the notes and tones of the works on display on the exhibition.

Photo credit: Dr Rachel Marsden

The exhibition “Chinese Classics: Arts Practice & the Community” is open now and running until the end of May on the 3rd level viewing space of the Library of Birmingham. You are in for a very special treat. 

Words: Sam German
Featured photo credit: Kate Gordon