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Xiaowen Zhu is an author, lecturer, and currently the Director of esea contemporary, the UK’s only non-profit art centre specialising in presenting and platforming artists and art practices that identify with and are informed by East and Southeast Asian (ESEA) cultural backgrounds. esea contemporary is situated in an award-winning building in the heart of Manchester, home to one of the largest East Asian populations in the UK. Since its inauguration as a community-oriented visual arts festival in 1986, esea contemporary – previously named Centre for Chinese Contemporary Art – has continuously evolved to establish itself as a dynamic and engaging space for cross-cultural exchanges in the British art scene, as well as in a global context. She is a member of the British Council's Arts and Creative Economy Advisory Group.

Zhu has worked internationally in Shanghai, New York, Los Angeles, London and Berlin as a director, author and lecturer. She was previously assistant director at Times Art Center Berlin, the first parallel institution to have been set up overseas by an Asian art museum, namely, the Guangdong Times Museum. Zhu has organised and conceived numerous contemporary art exhibitions, working closely with both established and emerging artists from all over the world.

Zhu is the author of artist book Oriental Silk (Hatje Cantz, 2020) and collection of short stories Encounters (Shanghai Educational Publishing House, 2022). Her essays, prose, interviews, and reviews of her book have appeared in Art Review, e-flux, Kaleidoscope, Asian Review of Books, Crown Magazine, Arts of the Working Class, It’s Nice That, and elsewhere. Zhu has given lectures and talks at London School of Economics and Political Science, Goldsmiths, University of London, Heidelberg University, Lund University, University of Westminster, Rhode Island School of Design, New York University, Syracuse University, University of California, Los Angeles, University of Southern California, Tsinghua University, Fudan University, among others. She is listed by Apollo magazine as a 40 Under 40 Asia Pacific Thinker


From (Counter-)Archives to Activation
May–August 2024, convened by Xiaowen Zhu
While archives embody power, the act of counter-archiving aims to destabilise their projected authority. Who holds the right to speak, to be documented, to exist not solely as statistics but as lived human experiences? What influences, supports, and undermines archival strategies and models within our society? What is the meaning of authenticity, subjectivity, and hegemony in this context? Can oral history facilitate intertextuality and counter-archiving to re-evaluate the narratives entrenched within institutional structures?

Jane Jin Kaisen: Halmang
January 20–April 21, 2024
esea contemporary presents the inaugural UK solo exhibition of internationally acclaimed artist and filmmaker Jane Jin Kaisen, featuring polyphonic moving-image works, archive and reference materials. By weaving together oceanic cosmology and gendered histories, the exhibition is an in-depth inquiry into narratives of subjective and collective loss, resilience, and the formation of alternative communities.

Read on

Director's Letter
It is with great pleasure that we relaunch esea contemporary, previously known as the Centre for Chinese Contemporary Art

Interweaving 交织

A hybrid of fiction, non-fiction, memoir, archive,
and script that explores what silk meant to Asian migrants

Oriental Silk 乡绸
An English-Chinese bilingual book exploring the complex relationship
between people and object in migrants' worlds (also a documentary film)


You can also find me on Instagram.


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