"Come with me to China," I beckoned to him as I led us through the doorway, into the shack. "Oooo, it even smells like China," I cooed.
"How do you know? Have you been to China?" he inquired.
"No, but I know very well the smell of Chinese shops." (as a frequent visitor to these types of stores, I'd know the distinctive musty aroma of dried herbs and mushrooms anywhere)
I found this recreation of a typical family shack especially memorable because it pays meticulous attention to all sorts of authentic shabby details: dirt-stained clothes and shoes, well-used cooking utensils, a sack of rice, an industrial-size bottle of cooking oil, a thin well-worn mattress held up with bricks, a discoloured cutting block, replete with a rusty cleaver, a Chinese musical soundtrack of popular songs, a window overlooking the other shacks outside, and yes, this home also comes complete with the fragrance of 'eau de China'. A shack of this modest dimension would normally house a family of four.
This installation is an example of why I think art can play an important role in enlightening society. Some art puts us inside a physical space we would never otherwise have the opportunity to be in and once inside this space, our imagination bridges the gap between us and 'that which is foreign', and we come away with a better intuitive understanding of 'that which we didn't know before' and this knowledge often transcends words. We simply feel it on a visceral level, we know it with our limbic brain.
Showcasing the 'making of the Chinese new worker class and 30 years of migration', the Culture and Arts Musem of Migrant Workers Museum, Beijing District 2010, is a part of the The Potosí Principle exhibition, a cooperation between Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía and Haus der Kulturen der Welt. Now on until September 6th.
Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía,
Calle de Santa Isabel, 52
All photography by Shehani Kay