What Is The Songzhuang Art Colony?
- On April 26, 2017
- By Shannon Ullman
- In General
An art colony? In Beijing? That’s right; the Songzhuang Art Colony is the most famous, and the largest of its kind in the entire city. With all of its fame, however, it seems that not too many visitors in China get to see it. Technically located in the suburbs of Beijing, this colony is home to around 2,000 artists.
Originally, the colony represented the avant-garde art movement but has evolved to host artists of many mediums. Sculptors, academics, painters and photographers all co-exist in this beautiful place.
The colony arose during the past two decades when artists were motivated by society and the government to find their retreat. It was mainly radicals who broke away from the pressures of their families and peers who started Songzhuang. Idealism was a spirit shared by many of these artists, and they actually began to gather on the grounds of the former Summer Palace.
During the 1980s, artists and other like-minded people began to congregate here as well, living freely, escaping the rat race and avoiding the pressures of society. The word spread, and eventually, artists from all over China began coming together in this spot.
This started a trend among artists, and pretty soon, it was commonplace to leave the city and create art based communities in more natural areas. Beijing East Village is another example of this.
Beijing East Village
Inspired by the East Village in Manhattan, this art colony was founded in the 1990s. A few artists banded together and took up residence in this area of migrant worker housing. When one of the residents was arrested for cooking naked in the courtyard, the community was shut down.
Many of the residents here came from all across China, and they formed the first generation of performance artists in the country. The people involved were known for collaborating, and the photographers who lived there made sure to document their lifestyle frequently.
Problems For The Songzhuang Art Colony
While the community hoped to live out their lives peacefully, problems eventually arose for them. As the community started to garner attention from the media and galleries, they came under more scrutiny from the public and the government. It was then that some of the leaders of the group decided to move the colony from the Old Summer Palace to Songzhuang township, known for farming.
The farmhouses, with their gardens and front courtyards, proved to be perfect for the artists and their way of life. And, while the original art colony was eventually closed down in 1995, the avant-garde essence was still preserved through the move to Songzhuang.
Today, Songzhuang Art Colony is filled with writers, photographers, painters and mixed media artists all living side by side. It is considered to be the biggest art community of its kind in China and also the world. Seemingly more accepted as the years go on, the Ministry of Culture sponsored the first ever Songzhuang Art Festival in 2005.
Visiting The Songzhuang Art Colony
If you’re spending time in Beijing, visiting the Songzhuang Art Colony is a definite possibility. By taking the Batong subway line from Beijing, visitors can get off in the Tongzhou district anywhere between Beiyuan station and the terminal station.
Make sure to visit the Artist Village Gallery, a large venue that displays the artwork of the colony residents. This is to help them gain fame and give them support while they build up their careers. Also make sure to visit Eye Haunt Art Space, which focuses on young and emerging artists. Soemo Fine Arts is another must see as it’s the first foreign gallery in the district and has works from both famous and new Chinese artists. If you have the time, pop into TS1, a gallery promoting all forms of contemporary artwork. There is also Grand Canal Culture Park that offers a river, playgrounds, cafes and restaurants.
Take your time and wander around or stop in a cute café for a drink. There is plenty of art to see and chatting with the artists is highly recommended. Be careful when purchasing because there are often people selling imitations of Songzhuang artwork while trying to pass them off as the real deal.
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