Q&A: Ceramics exhibition reflects on lives of Otago's first Chinese

The rich and complex history of the first Chinese to live in Otago is explored in an exhibition by Cindy Huang being held at Queenstown's Te Atamira gallery. We talk to Te Atamira's director Olivia Egerton about the exhibition and why the themes it explores are relevant to the region and the local community. The Foundation supported the gallery to hold the exhibition through the Arts Project Fund.

A ceramic flower sitting on concrete ground with lichen

Why did you want to exhibit Cindy’s works at Te Atamira?

We were drawn to Cindy as much like our own gallery, she is an emerging artist. Her work and practice opens an important and often overlooked discussion that is relevant to the Otago region. Otago has a rich history of Chinese settlement that hasn’t often appeared in the discourse in galleries and spaces in Otago. Cindy exhibition will encourage a collaborative and inviting discussion rather than looking at the history through a institutional lens.  

Can you describe her works?

Cindy’s works have been predominately ceramic based. Often installed on the ground, they shift the common expectation when walking into a gallery that the work will be on the walls. What draws us to Cindy’s work is the exchange element. Inviting the audience to take a piece of the exhibition, so long as they replace it, adds another layer of engagement to the space.  

ceramic flowers sitting on concrete

What do the works examine?

The work examines the histories of local Chinese migrant communities and the complex relationships of tauiwi, non-indigenous New Zealanders. It examines the history of Chinese settlements in the wider Otago region and the traces that these settlements left behind, both environmentally and culturally.

Why did Cindy want to explore the topics explored in this exhibition?

In previous works, Cindy has highlighted the lack of recorded knowledge around Chinese and specifically, the reciprocity between Māori and Chinese histories in Aotearoa. This was focused on the Auckland area. In this body of work she wanted to explore something new and arriving in the region she had an open mind. Previously her research process was in scholarly texts. Her process for this project was focused on the communities intimate knowledge and memories held that aren’t documented.  Cindy wanted to explore this region as it’s a commonly known area for Chinese settlement however there is a lack of documented history on social exchange.

White cermaic flowers scattered on a concrete floor

Why do you think it’s important for exhibitions like Cindy’s to be seen by New Zealand audiences?

It is important for New Zealand audiences, specifically the audiences here in Queenstown, to see exhibitions like Cindy's to educate themselves on the rich history of Chinese settlements that are not widely known about. This exhibition will unearth Chinese narratives and will encourage conversation and exchange on this topic.