Becoming Chinese-American in 1990s California: Migration and Cultural Adaptation through the Lens of Works by Zheng Chongbin

  • 17:00 – 19:00 GMT

  • Hunter Building, Hunter Lecture Theatre (017)
    74 Lauriston Place
    EH3 9DF


Please note this event is hybrid - if you wish to view online, please select an "online viewing" ticket and you will receive zoom link before the event.


Dr Alina Sinelnyk is a teaching fellow in modern and contemporary Chinese ink art and postcolonial theory at the University of Edinburgh. In 2021 Alina completed her doctoral thesis at the University of Edinburgh, as part of which she explored the positioning of contemporary Chinese ink art on the North American and European art scenes, using works by internationally recognised San Francisco Bay Area-based artist Zheng Chongbin as a manifesting case-study example. Alina also holds an MSc in Modern and Contemporary Art: History, Curating and Criticism, obtained from the University of Edinburgh. Her latest publication is journal paper ‘Curating the International Profile of Contemporary Chinese Ink Medium Art: The Third Chengdu Biennale (2007) and The Met’s Ink Art (2013–14)’, published in the autumn 2022 issue of Journal of Contemporary Chinese Art. Alina also presented a number of papers at conferences and academic events, such as the 14th CCVA (Centre for Chinese Visual Arts) Annual Conference at the Birmingham City University in 2021 or the University Museum and Art Gallery’s (UMAG) Lecture Series on Contemporary and Modern Chinese Art at the University of Hong Kong in 2022.


Using a case-study example of works by internationally acclaimed San Francisco Bay Areabased artist Zheng Chongbin (born 1961), this talk looks at how diasporic artists’ works may change in the light of their personal experience of migration and cultural adaptation. Zheng began his career as a Chinese-ink painter, having studied and then worked at Hangzhou’s Zhejiang Academy of Fine Arts (now China Academy of Art) until 1988 – the year when he undertook a life-changing trip to California, where he settled following his studies at the San Francisco Art Institute in 1989-1991. The talk starts by elucidating Zheng’s formative first few years upon his migration, specifically how the artist questioned if and in what ways he could continue with Chinese ink painting in 1990s California, where it was viewed as a culturally foreign art medium amidst the proliferation of installation art forms. This led Zheng to create a series of experimental non-ink installation pieces addressing issues in American and global politics. The talk then proceeds to explore how, following this, Zheng started more explicitly expressing the anxiety of being the Chinese-American immigrant artist, which resulted in new installations incorporating ink-soaked rice, or in performances as part of which Zheng placed himself in a cage for San Francisco’s stray animals, confronting local White American visitors to “adopt” the immigrant. Crucially, this critical embrace of his bicultural position set Zheng’s direction back to ink painting towards the end of the 1990s, which re-emerged in a new form, pertinent to the artist’s newly forged sense of a Chinese-American cultural identity.