Xiangqi Chen's 'Out Museum' at 41 Ross

  • by Heather Cassell
  • Tuesday April 23, 2024
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Xiangqi Chen speaks at the opening of her exhibit. (photo: Chinese Cultural Center)
Xiangqi Chen speaks at the opening of her exhibit. (photo: Chinese Cultural Center)

Nearly 100 people came out to the opening reception of "Out Museum: A Chinese Queer Museum" exhibit on April 12. The "Chinese queer museum prototype" by lesbian Chinese artist Xiangqi Chen opened at 41 Ross Alley art studio in the historic Chinatown.

The collection of mixed media works explores the experiences of LGBTQ Chinese from Beijing, Guangzhou, and Shanghai. Viewers of the queer Chinese experiences took in a documentary projected onto a wall in the back of the small gallery; a video of the artist, Chen getting dressed and marching in traditional Chinese opera garb in her first parade at San Francisco Pride. On the wall directly across the room from the video is a large-scale image of her transformation celebrating her heritage and queerness marching down Market Street.

Chen said the photo of her at Pride is her favorite piece in the exhibit because "it was a very special moment" for her. The two separate works are connected by a string of Chinese lesbian zines and event fliers hanging along the archway in the middle of the gallery.

Zines depicting queer Chinese women's lives in China. (photo: Chinese Cultural Center)  

A large rainbow in the front of the gallery invites people to create with crayons and markers and post messages on the interactive creative piece. In a corner behind the rainbow piece there are images of two queer women in a hijab holding signs in Chinese above fliers explaining the exhibit.

"It is impossible to build a Chinese Queer Museum, but it is not impossible to try a version of it," the red flier printed in several different languages begins. The flier goes on explaining that Out Museum "assumes that museums are forever" and in that assumption is "comfort" that the Chinese queer communities "activism, and our 'stuff' may live on for an eternity."

The impossibility of being able to create queer spaces in China is due to a severe crackdown by the Chinese government on LGBTQ and feminist activism in the country. The Bay Area Reporter previously reported last May, China's last LGBTQ community center located in Beijing, China's capital, closed. In 2021, Chinese authorities' shutdown LGBTQ and feminist groups on WeChat, the country's X-like social media network, and universities' queer and feminist research and unofficial student groups.

Chen moved to the U.S. as a visiting scholar, she told the B.A.R. through interpreter Hoi Leung (the exhibit's curator and a Hongkonger queer woman, Leung is also the CCC's deputy director).

Flyers adorn an archway at the intimate 41 Ross gallery opening on April 12. (photo: Heather Cassell)  

Chen continues to fight back from the U.S. through her artwork and activism. Chen said she feels reinvigorated for the movement again, due to Out Museum and CCC's support.

At the exhibit's opening reception, Madeleine Lim, executive director of the Queer Women of Color Media Arts Project, praised CCC's support of queer Chinese artists, saying it is "significant" and "so moving and so important."

"I understand government crackdown and impact on the lives of LGBTQ people," continued Lim. An immigrant queer woman of color, her 1997 film, "Sambal Belacan in San Francisco" is still banned in Singapore more than 25 years later, the B.A.R. previously reported.

Lim empathized with Chen, whom she met years ago, and her work and praised Leung for CCC's and her ongoing support of queer Chinese artists and being a longtime QWOCMAP partner.

San Francisco Pride President Nguyen Pham agreed calling the CCC's ongoing support of queer Chinese artists and the community was "vital."

The event was "critical to show not only our community, but also the world that queer and trans people have always existed in our Asian communities and to uplift that," he said.

"It's also critical to venture out to different parts of San Francisco and make sure that we're shedding light on the existing beauty of our distinctive neighborhoods," Pham added.

Chen said she wants "all people to understand the issues that the Chinese queer community is going through," but for Out Museum in particular, "It's really also about the Chinese speakers in the U.S. for them to really see people in the Chinese culture."

Queer and feminist
Laney College adjunct faculty and Lavender Project Coordinator Yih Ren said his favorite piece was the documentary where LGBTQ Chinese people talk queer life in China.

"It is very fluid and very indeed queer," said the 31-year-old University of San Francisco doctoral candidate who is studying queerness in Chinese immigrants and Chinese Americans. "I think having a physical space here will definitely foster a stronger identification with their identities and their homeland as well."

Other exhibitions, films, panel discussions, and pop-up performances by Chinese queer and feminist artists will run alongside the exhibit during the nearly three months Out Museum is displayed.

Attendees and elected officials fill Ross Alley at the 'Out Museum: A Chinese Queer Museum' opening reception on April 12. (photo: Heather Cassell)  

Officials and fans
San Francisco's elected officials, Chinese American and LGBTQ community leaders, and people interested in the Chinese queer experience crowded the narrow ally and small gallery during the opening reception April 12. The festivities were heightened by the energy in the air that Chinatown's Night Market also brought.

Mayoral candidate and San Francisco Board of Supervisors President Aaron Peskin and Supervisor Connie Chan kicked off the event with speeches along with other elected officials.

"The notion that the LGBT community is alive and well in Shanghai is profound and meaningful to me and my constituents and my colleagues," Peskin told the crowd. He continued stating that events like the exhibit are the "cultural ties" that make him and San Francisco "very proud. The real legislators are artists, but artists are really the people who legislate how we think," he said, before handing a certificate of honor to Chen as the crowd erupted with applause.

Chen, Chan, and Peskin were joined by openly gay elected officials California State Senator Scott Weiner, District 8 Supervisor Rafael Mandelman, and District 4 Supervisor Joel Engardio.

Some heads of the city's LGBTQ community organizations also came out to the opening. Openly lesbian Lim and Openhouse's Kathleen Sullivan, Ph.D., as well as, openly gay Roberto Ordenana of the GLBT Historical Society and Museum, and Pham were among the queer community leaders at the opening. Former openly gay head of the California Arts Council Jonathan Moscone was also present.

Chen expressed her gratitude for what generations of Chinese and LGBTQ activists have done, "It's just amazing," she told the crowd through her translator. The studio is celebrating its ten-year anniversary. Opened in 2014, the studio is a collaboration between the Chinatown Community Development Center and the CCC.

'Out Museum: A Chinese Queer Museum' through June 29, Thursdays through Saturdays, 11am-4pm in Chinatown between Washington and Jackson streets.

Chinese Cultural Center: www.cccsf.us
41 Ross: www.41ross.org

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