In Haunt

The Great Northern Wildness School of Printmaking 北大荒版画学派 –also known as Beidahuang – is an intriguing school of art at the centre of a new Manchester-based exhibition: The Soul of the Black Earth – located within the opening foyer of the Alliance Manchester Business School until the 13 March 2020 and presented by Manchester Confucius Institute.

Soul Of The Black Earth

This is the opportunity to follow the story of four generations of printmakers from Heilongjiang province, northeast China - a 60 year-span right up until the present day told through a series of woodblock print images. The distinct artwork is inspired by the dramatic vastness of landscape and an era of political and economic change.

So what is the story of The Great Northern Wildness School? Is there something particularly ‘wild’ about it? The term ‘wildness’ refers to the wastelands of Beidahuang, where thousands of demobilised Chinese soldiers were sent in 1958, with the objective of transforming it into usable farmland. Amongst these soldiers were a number of artists who in turn used the landscape of these ‘wastes’ and their change in use, as inspiration for distinctive, realistic prints –  a practice that still continues in China today. For example, there are now at least 200 active printmakers in Heilongjiang alone.

The Soul Of The Black Earth

Prints from this region have in turn become known as the Great Northern Wildness School of Printmaking 北大荒版画学派 (or Beidahuang), now celebrated through this exhibition here in Manchester. Visitors can enjoy a range of reproduced woodblock print images on display – and the exhibition itself opened on Wednesday 19 February with input from Dr Weimin He, a prolific Oxford-based printmaker, artist and curator.

During the opening event, an introductory video featuring printing technique demonstrations from printmaker Chen Yanlong was also shown – still available to view on the institute’s YouTube channel (https://bit.ly/2TDppBm). The Confucius Institute – the second of its kind to be established in the UK back in 2006 – after all celebrates promoting a broader and deeper understanding of Chinese culture and contemporary China… with this fascinating exhibition being another way to engage.

The Soul Of The Black Earth

‘The Soul of the Black Earth’ is open and free to visit at the Alliance Manchester Business School, Booth Street West, until the 13 March. Find out more information online here

By Emily Oldfield 

Images thanks to Katie Ainscough

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