Whenever I travel somewhere that feels very different from my home, it becomes very easy to seek out commonalities that put me at ease. I have to resist the urge to say something is “just like” a similar concept at home, because I know that such cultural relativism can lead me to overlook unique aspects of my new environment.
However, roaming around the art district in Beijing was an experience in clearly distinguishing the cross-cultural similarities apparent in many artist colonies from the uniquely Chinese context of our wanderings.
The aesthetic of many cute coffee shops tucked away between alleyway gardens could fit right into many international cities, as could the open loft concept used by many of the galleries. But looking deeper, I saw a photography exhibit on the current state of Communist countries and a Tibetan art and culture center. These stood near a (bad) abstract art exhibit whose erratic yellow and red splotch work could have existed anywhere without giving any context for the artist’s background and narrative.
It’s interesting to me that despite the fact that the abstract art reminded me more of familiar places, it is the uniquely Chinese exhibits that drew me in, teaching me to view the world through the artist’s eyes. In this way, viewing the art work in this district reminded me that when I view good art, I’ll be less likely to say it’s just like _________ and just appreciate the differences that I’d fail to see before.
— Niketa B., MPP