The concept of Britishness is one that’s possible to feel a strong grasp of, but in reality, no two people, even of a similar political persuasion or social background, are likely to agree on exactly. This would have been the case even before the arrival of the globalised and hyper-connected post-colonial society that we now live in. Starting from the slippery question of nationality – of what, or who, is or isn’t – Centre for Chinese Contemporary Art (CFCCA) presents Multiplicities in Flux, a two-person exhibition that explores multiple aspects of belonging, identity and citizenship.
Within the show, award-winning artist Eelyn Lee addresses Britishness head-on in her 2019 film of the same title. The piece was made in collaboration with young writers from Sheffield (as well as Magid Magid, during his tenure as the city’s Lord Major), following their journey as they worked through multiple revised understandings of the complex word to arrive at something that is constantly influx; moulded by ever-changing social, economic, political and historical narratives.
Showing alongside, feminist photographer Grace Lau highlights the multiplicity of contemporary British society and the othering of Chinese people in 21st Century Types: A Photographic Study (2005). The portrait series of residents and holidaymakers in the British-seaside town of Hastings deliberately reverses the Imperialist vision of the ‘exotic other’ seen in 19th-century archival photographs taken by Westerners visiting China, with Lau adopting the role of the classifier.
CFCCA’s concurrent exhibition, Autopsy of a Home by Manchester-based artist Omid Asadi, chimes with these themes through its focus on the experience of migrants and diaspora communities in the UK, and the domestic spaces they occupy. Using Michel Foucault’s concept of hetrotopia (literally meaning ‘other spaces’), Asadi invites visitors to consider the impact of becoming disconnected from a person’s roots and familiar environment on their sense of identity. The installation will feature painted windows, stained glass, reconstructed Persian carpets, two large paintings, and video works.
After the dramatic rise in racism experienced by people of East Asian heritage in the UK since the start of the pandemic, both CFCCA exhibitions offer a timely look at how we relate to the vast diversity of people living in Britain today.