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Art exhibition puts spotlight on China’s ethnic groups

Belgian artist Phil Akashi’s ‘Aesthetics of Language’ displayed at NoHo House gallery in Barcelona

The NoHo House gallery with two of Phil Akashi's paintings on the wall
The NoHo House gallery with two of Phil Akashi's paintings on the wall / Gerard Escaich Folch
Gerard Escaich Folch

Gerard Escaich Folch | @gescaichfolch | Barcelona

September 22, 2022 07:30 AM

September 22, 2022 01:02 PM

The Belgian artist Phil Akashi is showcasing his ‘Aesthetics of Language’ collection at Barcelona’s NoHo House gallery from September 22 to October 7. His artwork shows China’s unity, history, and philosophy of different ethnic groups.

Akashi started the project ‘Legend of the Dragon’ in 2015 and since then, he has been visiting the Asian country to meet with 55 ethnic minorities and the Han majority. 

His goal was to do site-specific artworks in the environment of each ethnicity, creating a dialogue stretching from east to west. "China is a very big and a very diverse country," Phil Akashi said to Catalan News. 

Belgian artist Phil Akashi’s ‘Aesthetics of Language’ at Barcelona's NoHo House gallery. The collection depicts China’s unity, history, and philosophy of different ethnic groups.

"In this project, I was interested in trying to understand and learn more about China. I love China, and I was really willing to understand how such a big and diverse country could continue to develop at such a fast pace and try to keep a certain unity and certain harmony," he added.

When asked about the UN reports about the "serious human rights violation" the Chinese government is accused of having perpetrated on the Uyghur minority, Akashi did not directly refer to it, and instead explained his visit to the heart of the Silk Road, in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region. He sourced local silk and imprinted it with traditional Chinese seals and characters. 

The Belgian artist wanted to "celebrate the region's textile culture, its people, and its nature," placing the artworks on a caravan of camels in the Taklamakan desert. 

Phil Akashi's onsite art performance in the Taklamakan Desert
Phil Akashi's onsite art performance in the Taklamakan Desert

This is one of his designed monumental art pieces integrated into each society that he worked on while visiting China. Just before returning to the studio where he worked on paintings inspired by his trips.

He wanted to "create that dialogue using different languages from China and elements from the culture or identity," he explained to this media outlet.

The Belgian painter created more than 20 site-specific artworks using different techniques such as "different fabrics from ethnic minorities" he shared after his experiences in China.

Close-up of one of Phil Akashi's artwork in NoHo House
Close-up of one of Phil Akashi's artwork in NoHo House / Gerard Escaich Folch

For him, ‘Aesthetics of Language’ and its mother's collection ‘Legend of the Dragon’ is in a way showing "how China is moving, how China is growing, and how China is trying to continue to grow,” he said.

In the exhibition at NoHo House gallery, attendees can see some of Akashi’s colorful paintings alongside fabric compositions and mosaics. 

Two NoHo House visitors watch Phil Akashi's artwork on September 14, 2022
Two NoHo House visitors watch Phil Akashi's artwork on September 14, 2022 / Gerard Escaich Folch

To meet the dozens of ethnic minority groups, the Belgian artist traveled to Hong Kong, Beijing, and Shanghai, but also to Harbin in Heilongjiang province, on the border with Russia. Akashi also visited Qinghai, the second biggest Tibetan region in the country, and Xinjiang, at the western border next to Tajikistan and Afghanistan.

"It is really big distances, and in each region, you have a real variety of minorities," he said when recalling his trip.

Some of Phil Akashi's artwork from the 'Legend of the Dragon' collection in NoHo House
Some of Phil Akashi's artwork from the 'Legend of the Dragon' collection in NoHo House / Gerard Escaich Folch

NoHo House gallery

Located in Barcelona’s Eixample neighborhood on Corsega street, 224, NoHo House gallery opened in December 2021. 

"NoHo House is an art gallery," Ulrika Talling-Smith, the founder, said to Catalan News. "It stands for Nordic House Barcelona, which means that we work with Nordic artists, but it's also a home for [local] artists and designers, and creators," she added.

A coat designed by NoHo House founder painted by Phil Akashi
A coat designed by NoHo House founder painted by Phil Akashi / Gerard Escaich Folch

Talling-Smith has been living in the Catalan capital for over a year and a half, after previously working in New York, San Francisco, London, and Doha. 

But the gallery is not only designed to display paintings and glass art but also as a home to fashion shows. "I like to include interaction and surprises" with visitors, the founder of NoHo House told Catalan News.