Curating Chinatown

Courtney Jordan

In whatever city you are in, anywhere in the world, chances are that the rich environment of a nearby Chinatown is calling. There are more than 300 of these neighborhoods in the world—from San Francisco to Brisbane to Kuala Lumpur—and more are forming every day.

Exploring Chinatown never gets boring. Getting lost in the narrow alleys of these insular communities is a feast for the senses. As an art subject, the same liveliness holds true.

This month the Storefront for Art and Architecture in New York City is hosting an exhibition that testifies to this fact. Displaying more than a thousand images taken by almost as many photographers, Chinatowns gives viewers a grand tour of the Chinese urban enclaves that exist worldwide.

One Chinatown might be a derelict eyesore for one city and a bustling, developing quarter of another. Some of the neighborhoods are newly created, like those in Sydney, Australia, and Richmond, British Columbia. Others in San Francisco and London are well-known, well-loved sites visited by tourists and locals alike.

Certainly there is a visual unity established in the photographs that isn’t remiss—so much of the phenomenon built up around these places is based on the idea that the same features can be found in each neighborhood no matter where it is on the globe. But the nuances of each locale also shine through, distinguishing that particular spot and bringing its unique personality and presence to the fore.

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