Down Beijing’s KuanJie street, just past the Chinese Medicine hospital, you’ll come to what was once an old printing factory. Today the factory has been converted into a series of shops and private art spaces. It’s the kind of place that you’d likely walk right past if you didn’t know what to look for. Step through the nondescript door of room #101 and you’ll find a simple space, not large, filled with 120 beautifully displayed baskets.
This exhibit is the collection of fashion designer Ma Ke, and was curated by long-time China expatriate, Michelle Chan. The baskets have been collected from all over China and each one tells a story. In this room are stories of small Chinese villages that few people have ever heard of, and of wealthy families from China’s international trading hubs. And there are stories too of the people who come and visit the museum – their impressions and their memories, expressed in writings or in drawings in a little guestbook.
Some of the baskets were found in the elegant, eastern coastal areas of Zhejiang and Anhui province. Others come from the rustic corners of southwestern China, like Sichuan and Yunnan. In those regions bamboo grows in abundance and the techniques of basket making have been honed over generations. And still others were made in villages along the rough banks of the Yellow River. You can get a sense of the home environments of these baskets just by inspecting their materials and design.
Many of these baskets are like the ones an average Chinese person would remember from their childhood if they’d grown up in the 70’s or 80’s. But some date back all the way to the Qing dynasty. There are also ones that you might still find on any given Beijing street corner, being used to transport chickens or wash rice. There are stories here of the passing of time too, as you think about the changing functions of these baskets in people’s lives. Often what were once crucial tools for daily work and life, are now thought of as decorative pieces.
“The relationship between people and their artifacts, is the relationship between people and their lives” the exhibition program reminds us. Each basket, no matter how old or where it’s from, had its own special purpose, Whether that be for use during a special festival, or for daily chores. Every bit of wear and tear, every misshapen or warped edge is a record of that basket’s use in a person’s life.
For an exclusive experience, contact WildChina to arrange a look at Ma Ke’s beautiful concept store behind the baskets exhibition. Here you will find handmade pieces from Ma Ke’s fashion house, WUYONG, amongst the carefully crafted furniture and decor of a recreated Yunnan home. The experience is exquisite. No photos are allowed in this space, so you’ll have to see it for yourself. Contact a WildChina travel designer to arrange a visit: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Discover Beijing on a private Beijing tour.
1-101. No. 77 Backstreet Art Museum
Dongcheng District, Beijing