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An award goes beyond recognizing photographers to honoring the work of the people who organize exhibitions, Yang Xiaoyu reports.

By Yang Xiaoyu | CHINA DAILY | Updated: 2024-02-20 08:22

Jiang Feiran (middle) and Wang Shuman (right), winner of the second Jimei x Arles Curatorial Award for Photography and Moving Image, visit the Foundation Henri Cartier-Bresson in Paris, France, in July 2023. CHINA DAILY

Managing messaging

Compared to artists, curators must handle so much more work, including sometimes trivial details. These include researching subject matter, pitching curatorial proposals and drawing up budgets, in addition to finding suitable materials for presenting exhibition labels, according to the awardees.

"The biggest challenge about being a curator lies in communication," Zhou says. "When I work as an artist, I probably don't need to explain what I do to others. But as a curator, I have the responsibility to explain what I do to various stakeholders, including artists, art institutions, space designers, media and audiences, and to make sure I explain it clearly."

Aside from communication skills, the awardees say a curator needs solid academic research abilities, be able to raise thought-provoking questions, and read the exhibition space well to display art in an appealing and compelling manner. They also must have a can-do attitude when it comes to solving problems and organizing engaging public education programs, among many other skills.

"Participating in the competition is definitely good training for young curators, as it teaches them the entire process of curating an art exhibition through practice," says the award's first recipient, Jiang Feiran. "It offers emerging curators a great opportunity to test their mettle, and the awardees can get strong support for their future career development."

Jiang, who was a photographer pursuing her PhD in curatorial studies at the China Academy of Art in Hangzhou, Zhejiang province, at the time, won the award for her curatorial project, Unnamed River.

"Winning the curatorial award marked a formal debut for me as a curator ... which is critical to my career advancement," says Jiang, who is currently a researcher at the academy's Institute of Contemporary Art and Social Thought.

"The whole experience not only enabled me to meet like-minded creatives for future collaboration, but also helped me build contacts with art institutions, artists, critics and media."

Gan and Zhou also appreciate the opportunity to take master classes given by renowned international curators Wu Hung, Fumio Nanjo, Sergio Valenzuela Escobedo and Taous Dahmani, which Three Shadows organized for all contestants in 2023.

"I found the master class by Wu Hung very helpful and valuable because the veteran curator shared how he approached research-based exhibitions step by step based on longtime practice," Zhou says.

A panel discussion on Curatorial Practice and Intercultural Dialogue is held during the opening week of the ninth Jimei x Arles International Photo Festival in Xiamen, East China's Fujian province, on Dec 16, 2023. CHINA DAILY

The celebrated art historian and curator participated in a panel discussion on curatorial practice and intercultural dialogue during the photo festival last December. He compared the role of a curator to that of a film director and praised the award, saying that it will help the public recognize the importance and originality of the work of curators.

Wu emphasizes the importance of curators in facilitating dialogue among artists, stimulating creativity and advancing the development of art. He also suggests that artists should be part of the judging panel to evaluate the impact of curatorial projects involving the exchange and improvement of art.

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