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25 Foundation Grantees

Simon Kaan


In 2004 Dunedin-based painter and printmaker Simon Kaan was the first recipient of an Asia:NZ/Creative New Zealand (CNZ) residency at Beijing’s Red Gate Gallery.

Born in 1971 to a Chinese father and a Ngāi Tahu/Scottish mother, Simon had always recognised the influence of his dual heritage in his work. The residency was not his first trip to China – the year before he’d spent three months in Guangzhou with his partner, but without official status he hadn’t been able to pursue his career. 

That was all to change in 2004. “No matter what happened there, it was always going to be a turning point,” he told CNZ on his return from Beijing. “It’s been so valuable for me to work out of New Zealand and to work among the artists’ community in Beijing.”


Simon says his three months with Red Gate gave him structure and a broader context in which to place his work. “My work was read over there as Chinese. That was an interesting experience – I hadn’t been expecting that,” he says.

Red Gate Gallery director Brian Wallace described Simon’s residency as “most productive”. “(He) managed to take in the local art scene, meet a large range of local and international artists, prepare work for a show in Beijing and New Zealand, lease and outfit a large studio for ongoing use, and host a New Zealand team doing a documentary about his China odyssey.”

Simon has been back to China four times since 2004. On his last visit he took his three children to Guangzhou to visit their great grandparents’ village. In Beijing, Brian Wallace screened the documentary This Placement at a gathering of the art community.

 “That was lovely,” Simon said. “It reignited a sense of belonging.” While his Beijing studio is no longer – it’s been demolished  – Simon is currently planning a collaboration with a Beijing artist.