Han Zhang (b. 1988) is a Toronto-based Chinese artist whose work explores the subject of language, translation, meaning and cross-cultural communication. She questions the problematic issues in literary and poetic translation: loss of meaning, instability of understanding, and subjectivity of interpretation. Wood, thread, paper, ink, glass, mirror and other fragile materials are the resources which Han Zhang uses to construct and deconstruct language, challenging viewers’ perception and interpretation of the poetic nature of language and translation. She graduated Magna Cum Laude with High Honor Thesis in Studio Art from Mount Holyoke College in MA, USA and has a PhD in Communication and Culture from York University, Canada.


2016 Xiang, Solo Exhibition at 7th Edition of Sharjah Calligraphy Biennial, Sharjah Art Museum, United Arab Emirates

2015 Visual Utterance, Group Exhibition, Cube Arts Gallery, Dubai, United Arab Emirates

2014 Paper, Ink, Poetry, Solo Exhibition at 6th Edition of Sharjah Calligraphy Biennial, Sharjah Art Museum, United Arab Emirates

2014 TRACES, Group Exhibition, Curator, Espace pour la vie, Montreal, QC, Canada

2013 BLANK, Group Exhibition, Alison Milne Gallery, Toronto, ON, Canada

2013 Like Manna From Heaven, in collaboration with Helen Yung, Centre for Social Innovation, New York City, NY, USA

2013 Like Manna From Heaven, in collaboration with Helen Yung, Gallery 345, Toronto, ON, Canada

2010 6: Studio Art Honors Thesis Exhibition, Mount Holyoke College Art Museum, MA, USA

2009 Five College Advanced Drawing Seminar Exhibition, Eli Marsh Gallery, Amherst, MA, USA

Finding the Poetry that Is Lost In Translation: The Works of Han Zhang
Peter Unwin

“Poetry,” according to Robert Frost, “is what gets lost in translation.” This lostness, the physical presence of lostness itself, is to be found in abundance in the paper and ink installations of Han Zhang. In her paper we encounter what we know paper to be; an age-old medium for the inscription of symbolic meaning. Yet in Zhang’s works the paper itself has grown tired of that traditional function, and accepts it only reluctantly, if at all, as an afterthought. It seeks instead its own contours, its own dimensionality. It struggles to become not a mere surface upon which meaning is inscribed, but meaning itself.

Consequently we do not read the contents of Zhang’s paper so much as we become translators in a creative interaction with it. Here paper re-assumes its physical monumentality, it can be pierced like flesh or sewn like cloth, molded like clay, suspended like leaves on a tree, folded into a child’s dream catcher and frozen in mid air like snowflakes that have come to a standstill. It cannot however be taken for granted. It must be read, translated, as it were, not in terms of the ink markings inscribed on its surface, but in terms of itself.

As to that ink, it too is not satisfied to be the mere substance of inscription, the fluid by which thought is made visible. It requires its own interpretation, bestowing on the viewer the opportunity to comprehend languages we had no idea we understood; the language of hand-spun wool that evokes the language of human hair, and the ideographic symbols of a written language that, placed next to their English translation, look remarkably the same, joined by the living threads that link them. Finally what is lost in translation; that poetry as Frost insisted, is found here in abundance, in the gaps between simultaneity and our awareness of it, in the gaps between what we read, and what we can hope to understand.