“It’s a bit Chinatowny”

A Fresh Look at Englishness in Liu Xiaodong’s New England (新英格兰), 2019

by Ashleigh Chow | 27 October 2020

Nestled in the heart of London’s Mayfair at Massimo de Carlo, Liu Xiaodong’s latest exhibition New England (6 Oct - 21 Nov 2020) presents a series of intimate portraits, aimed at suggesting a new history of an emerging Chinese diaspora. Painted during a visit to London in June 2019, Liu produces a fresh and brilliant new perspective on Englishness.

The aptly titled New England depicts the wave of young Chinese professionals choosing to leave the Middle Kingdom and settle in the Queen’s isle. Their professional expertise are visible in the portraits, as are their stories, personal histories and unique perspectives on their new home. Accompanying the portraits is a 30-minute documentary film directed by Yang Bo and sound engineered by Shi Qian which reveal the relationships behind the warmhearted paintings.

“Your hat is very cool… 很喜欢 [I really like it].” One of the sitters, Ed Tang comments to Liu Xiaodong in a mixture of Mandarin and English. He’s referring to the painter’s fedora, which Liu explains was bought following an episode of unpredictable English weather at a polo match.

“It’s a bit Chinatowny,” the painter replies as the sitters, both siblings, nod shyly in agreement. Working amidst the bustle of the Tang’s family-restaurant at the Dorchester, China Tang, the fedora-capped Liu picks up his brush, and continues adding his painterly brushstrokes.