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Artists Talk: It was like I’d spent a Very, Very Long Spring Festival in My Hometown

China is home to one of the world’s largest art markets. With a market share of 18% ($11.7 billion) in 2019, it holds third place despite a decrease in the global sale of art and antiques reaching an estimated $64.1 billion, down 5% year-on-year, returning the market to just above its 2017 level.1 Its resilience to underlying events in the economy is representative of the art market in times of uncertainties. In this article we speak with three artists to find out how the COVID-19 pandemic has affected them and what this resilience feels like on the ground in China. 

Zhu Lanqing is a photographer whose works explore the relationship between modernisation and locality, with a focus on southern China. Recipient of several prestigious awards including the Barcelona International Photography Award and Photo Boite 30 Under 30, Lanqing was the youngest photographers ever to receive the Three Shadows Photography award in 2014, a premier platform for young photographers in China (with a rotating panel of international judges and a cash prize of 80,000 RMB – 8,720GBP) ). Recalling the early days of  COVID-19 mandated confinement, she tells us, “It was like I’d spent a very, very long Spring Festival in my hometown.”

A Journey in Reverse Direction My Grandma by Zhu Lanqing

For the uninitiated, Spring Festival (also known as Chunjie or Lunar New Year) is China’s most important holiday. Every year, hundreds of millions of Chinese people head to their hometowns or go on vacation all at once, making it the world’s largest human migration that has come to be known as Chunyun, or spring migration. Governed by the lunar calendar, this year’s festival fell on January 23 — two days after the Wuhan lockdown.

Lanqing’s annual journey involves a two-hour drive from her studio in the coastal city of Xiamen, Fujian province to her family’s home down south in Dongshan. “When the situation was intense, it was not convenient to go out and take pictures,” says Lanqing, who like so many others simply stayed at home and worked through her ideas on a computer. She also uses WeChat, China’s most popular messaging and social media app, to engage in conversations and exchange information with other artists and curators. “People are beginning to discuss ways to make online exhibitions more attractive.” Nevertheless, the general consensus seems to be that offline exhibitions will ultimately return. “Art is inseparable from its medium and the mediums provided by online exhibitions are ultimately digital and technological,” she explains.