In this blog, I have already written about Redtory (红砖厂), also called the “Red Factory”, an art and design district located just a few subway stations away from Guangzhou’s brand new central business district of Zhujiang New Town (珠江新城).
Further away from the downtown’s shiny skyscraper and Redtory (红砖厂), Xiaozhou (小洲) is emerging as an alternative art village on the fringe of the Cantonese megalopolis. Located near the island that houses Guangzhou’s University Mega-center (广州大学城) where the campuses of a dozen high education institution merge into one, Xiaozhou is dubbed the ‘Art Village’ (艺术村).
The Commune of Xiaozhou
Removed from the city center, close to Guangdong province main high-end education hub, the atmosphere that reigns in Xiaozhou is very different than in Redtory.
Two structure stand out in the village. First, the People’s Assembly Hall (小洲人民礼堂) which marks the entrance of the village and houses temporary art exhibition and then, the iconic yellow gate of Xiaozhou Commune (小洲公社) which features a life-size painting of Mao smoking a cigarette with mountains in the background. Behind this first layer of recent Communist history, Xiaozhou is also an ancient village.
While getting lost in the narrow streets, between lineage temples and the canal that winds through the village, passer-by may stumble upon one of the last Qing-era oyster-shell wall house to be found in the city.
Redtory vs Xiaozhou
Although both Redtory and Xiaozhou are considered to be ‘art districts’, they are diametrically opposed.
Redtory was set up by a collective of artists and designers in an ancient factory districts near the downtown while Xiaozhou is emerging as an artsy place in an ancient village in suburban Guangzhou. While there is something very organized in Redtory, Xiaozhou has more of a chaotic feel. Trendy coffee places, art, design and photography come to life (and die) and they are your to find in the streets of the village, between a lineage temple and residential housing.
With its high-end restaurants, coffee shops, art galleries and stores, Redtory seems to be the right place for a fashion shoot or a stroll in an art and design district which attracts a crowd of local wealthy and expats, feels like an artificially gentrified place. Redtory feels like a Chinese hybrid of hipster-ish and upscale place.
Xiaozhou feels more laid-back. There is this Cantonese, southern Chinese ‘nonchalance’ that permeate the streets of the village. This is probably due to the fact that Xiaozhou is home to a modest community of villagers who live there and attracts a crowd of student who sometime practice their drawing and painting skills in the street. In the eye of these students, everywhere corner of Xiaozhou itself can be the subject of artistic creation.
Is Xiaozhou worth the trip?
Between the art studios, creative supply stores for ink, paper, brushes (you name it), coffee places, bars and restaurants where one can eat, drink and also buy painting brushes, there are a lot of shrines, temples and ancestor halls where the local come, worship and burn incense in giant tripods. Art and the daily lives of local people merge in this suburban Cantonese village.
For those who want to escape the madness of Guangzhou, Xiaozhou is a relatively enjoyable place to get lost into, where the pace of life is slower and where art, student and local people’s way of life, history, culture and religion coalesce together on the margin of one of China’s international cities.
How to get there
By taxi : from Guangzhou downtown are of Zhujiang New Town, count at least 50 to 60 RMB for the cab fare. Tell the driver you are going to Xiaozhou Art Village (小洲艺术村).
By public transportation : there is no subway line to Xiaozhou. A good alternative is to take the bus #252 from Kecun (客村), the interchange station between line 5 and line 3. The bus ride from Kecun should last around 50 minutes.