Guangzhou: Xiaozhou Art Village

Sometimes my students’ really do come up trumps when it comes to info on people or places I may not know about (SanMao) and again here with this mysterious art enclave tucked away in the depths of Haizhu. No metro station so I am reliant on bus. My student mentions a blog by a mysterious Swiss Geographer who had been and from there I was intrigued enough to make my own journey.

Alighting from the bus I admit to feeling a bit lost. Where was it I was supposed to be heading? The only obvious sign was across the road where there were a row a shops. From there is a road leading inward, could this be it? There was only one way to find out. It was if anything home to many art schools or training centres as they’re known.

While the students were having their lunch, I poked my head round the door to see a still life studio with easels en masse. Around the corner on the main drag was another school and again my intention was to have a quick look at the work on offer. This time I am besieged by eager students! A lot of whom want to add me on we chat (a common practice here in China) and it takes a while of confusion to determine if they are teachers, students or management, even the receptionist wants in!

After that overwhelming embrace it was time to locate my own lunch. Further down the road is what looks like a good choice so I point to the picture and say ‘I’ll have that’ to which they reply ‘mayo’ (don’t have) and signal that they’ve run out of rice. Settling on a lack lustre curry around the corner reunited me with some of the same students who are still buzzing from our previous encounter.

Back out onto the main road (where the bus dropped me off) I walk a little further and turn right over a bridge and up another road to a cluster of urbanity – again nothing special. A cafe run by a local husband and wife team helps cleanse my earlier error. In this cottage industry, I notice an older guy in the corner sticking stickers to the cups! The woman tells me it is her dad!

Outside is a dusty looking street and the sky is a rich deep blue, the perfect day for a meandering voyage of discovery yet still it doesn’t feel like the expected art village. Walking further up the road feeling fine though a little disappointed the road curves to the right and over a canal. Right again is an arch and a public square, the kind used to play cards in and a village hall (Xiaozhou Ren Min Li Tang) beyond which the roads begin to narrow to alleys.

At first I think this is just the kind of ally found in many Asian cities and the thought of whether this leads to a main road or if I will have to turn around and go back the way I came crosses my mind. A concrete house with pale green window frames changes this. Following the path round to the front reveals this is not any house it could be an artists home, a museum or a teahouse. Either way it’s closed to the public. What is clear however is that I’ve stumbled upon the real art village.

Soon after a teahouse appears, a prayer tree and across the putrid canal on the corner, one more coffee worshipping place. On the same side of the canal as the cafe is a building with green curtains which takes my fancy. The door has a narrow steel frame which is ajar and I stretch out my hand to prize it open. A girl stands before me to tell me it’s a company, in other words to leave. Fortunately behind her is another one, Rouge, a videographer who calls me to enter for a guided tour! The building is amazing and feels like one of those cool cafes with vinyl records attached to the walls as well as other artefacts.

Up the dark and narrow stairwell is an open air verandah area to sit and take tea. Inside is a video editing suite where the male half of the team is busy on a Mac. It makes the day worthwhile and having found another part of Guangzhou I love along with Dongshan my closing thoughts are to return and explore its nooks and crannies further. On the verandah wall is a picture with the inscription ‘Write Down Your Dream and Take Action.’ Indeed, the future is arty.

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