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Oriental Silk: the Touch of History and Colours of Memory

Together with Zhu Xiaowen and Nicky Harman, we walk into Oriental Silk, a shop filled with the memories of two generations of migrants. – Guanghwa Bookshop

Date and time: Sat, Sep 4, 2021, 12:00 PM CEST

About this event

Oriental Silk is an English and Chinese bilingual book created by artist and writer Zhu Xiaowen and translated by Nicky Harman (from Chinese to English). The book forms a part of Xiaowen’s long-term project of the same title, which also includes an award-winning documentary film. Xiaowen lived in Los Angeles between 2012 and 2014 as an artist-in-residence. One day, while she was driving on Beverley Boulevard, she spotted a Chinese silk shop named Oriental Silk Importers that looked slightly out of place in the trendy Beverley Hills. Walking in with curiosity, she quickly realized that it was not just a shop full of bolts of silk, but also a place filled with history and memories. Xiaowen decided to record the story of this extraordinary shop with her camera. Through the narration of Kenneth Wong the shop owner, the history of Oriental Silk unfolds before the eyes of the audience. Founded in 1972 by Wong’s parents, a Chinese migrant couple with humble background, the shop is the first Chinese silk importing business on the West Coast of the United States since China’s Cultural Revolution. Throughout decades it attracted numerous celebrities and fashion designers all over the world. The Chinese title of the book 鄉綢 (Xiang Chou) is a pun meaning both “silk from home” and “homesickness”. Under the waves of globalization and mass machine production, appreciation for localized craftsmanship is being lost. As a result, small businesses like Oriental Silk are struggling, and even disappearing. However, the unique legacy and values they leave behind should never be forgotten. This event is a part of the 50-year anniversary celebration of Guanghwa Bookshop, the UK’s leading China-specialized bookshop founded in 1971.

About the speakers:

Zhu Xiaowen is a Berlin-based artist and writer. Her work is concerned with how things and beings migrate across time (historical and contemporary) and space (borders and boundaries) with a particular interest in personal witness and testimony. Zhu has received the Civitella Ranieri Visual Arts Fellowship, TASML Artist Residency Award, Marylyn Ginsburg Klaus Fellowship, Jury Award of DOK Munich, among others. She has lectured and given talks at Heidelberg University, Rhode Island School of Design, New York University, University of Southern California, University of California, Los Angeles, Syracuse University, Tsinghua University, Fudan University, and more. Her bilingual book Oriental Silk 鄉綢 was published by Hatje Cantz in 2020.

Nicky Harman is a prolific translator and a Trustee of Paper Republic. She was also co-Chair of the Translators Association (Society of Authors) between 2014 and 2017. Her most recent translation works include Oriental Silk (by Zhu Xiaowen), I Want to Be Good (by Huang Beijia), Broken Wings (by Jia Pingwa), White Horse (by Yan Ge) and Our Stories (by Rao Pingru).


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