yinchuan biennale

Everyone has high hopes for the newborn Yinchuan Museum of Contemporary Art (MoCA). Only a year old, the gleaming white institution - a futuristic gnarl of stratified glass-reinforced plastic - writhes amid remote wetlands some 40 kilometres from Yinchuan, a provincial capital in northwest China. Its director, Liu Wenching, believes her museum will be an artistic epicentre within a decade. Its creative director likens it to a "sapling. growing into an ageless tree." The museum's backers no doubt anticipate urbanising tides engulfing the far-flung site, while the government sees it as a jewel in its strategy to invigorate cultural and economic exchange with China's western neighbours. Meanwhile, Bose Krishnamachari, curator of Kochi-Muziris Biennale (KMB) fame, hopes to put the fledgling institution on the artworld map with an inaugural 73-artist biennial entitled For an Image, Faster than Light.

Speed is all around the Biennale. China's museum bulimia is well known: the country has fast-tracked around 4000 institutions into existence since 1978, sometimes clocking in upward of 200 per year. Economically, there is some urgency for China to engage with its neighbouring developing nations ("to vent some of its surplus," as one economist put it). Unsurprisingly, culture has been enlisted into the soft power plays in this largely Muslim Hui minority region, the lynchpin of the government's "One Belt, One Road" economic scheme to bolster relations along the ancient Silk Road, notably with Central Asia and the Middle East. In this context, the enterprising Yinchuan MoCA, in spite of its distance from any urban art hub, lost no time in kicking into biennial gear. And Krishnamachari seemed like the perfect pilot for the maiden drive.

The KMB changed a whole city. A favourite Krishnamachari anecdote is that the locals learned two words in his wake, "installation" and "biennale", words that allude to the fusion of economic and cultural stimulation that the event fostered. But if Kochi is a sprawling, community-consuming affair, folding a string of sites and souls into its conquering enthusiasm, Yinchuan, confined largely to the walls of the institution, seems to brood in comparison. If Kochi embraces locality, Yinchuan seems indifferent to it: only one local artist is in the show (Mao Tong Qiang), without a single Chinese Muslim among the 73, despite the stated curatorial mission of exploring the "difference between the state of red and green," of Communism and Islam. If Kochi embraces a spirit of...

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