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July 15, 2011

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Gallery owner bridges art gap

PASCALE Rabu's gallery silently crouches on the ancient Pingjiang Road by a tranquil small river. Seen through the French windows, modern art pieces are delicately hung on the walls and placed on easels.

The French woman, who has been living in Suzhou for 15 years, named her gallery "Le Pont des Arts," or the "Bridge of Arts."

"In Paris there is a bridge on the River Seine with the same name, where people can stop for a while and appreciate the various art works displayed there," says Rabu. "And I'm walking from the bridge in France to here in Suzhou."

The gallery is renovated from an old house built during the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) with brick walls and gray roof tiles.

Rabu opened the modern art gallery four years ago.

She kept the original old side of the house and filled it with modern art pieces.

Born with artistic and romantic genes, Rabu has been obsessed with the arts since she was young. In France, it was her weekly routine to visit museums and galleries.

After moving to Suzhou, her passion for arts didn't die. She applied to join a sculpture course and met many young artists there. The art talks inspired her and she felt a stronger urge to have a gallery dedicated to modern art in Suzhou.

"Suzhou is a city of traditional arts and cultures, such as brush calligraphy and ink painting. But it would be a pity if there was not a place for modern art," she says. "A city without modern art is by no means a big city."

Rabu hopes her modern art gallery can be a supplement to the city's art map as well as a window for Suzhou locals, through which they can see a bigger world of arts with a wider variety.

Her gallery holds at least four modern art exhibitions every year, displaying all kinds of contemporary arts from oil painting to sculpture done by artists from China and abroad.

Last year, Rabu launched another modern art gallery in Shanghai's Taopu Art Creation Park, boasting an area of more than 130 square meters. "It will be a platform for me to get closer to the Shanghai metropolis as an art frontier," she says.

The gallery is not only for selling paintings. "Anyone is welcome here if you love arts," she says. "Running a gallery is not running a restaurant."

Having lived in Suzhou for 15 years with her husband and three children, Rabu now happily calls the city home. She can speak fluent Mandarin, read simple Chinese and bargain easily with vendors in the food market.

However things were awful in 1996 when she first came to Suzhou with her husband, who was in China on business.

At that time, Suzhou had no supermarkets and no one spoke French or English. They had to take the train every week to Shanghai to buy milk powder and yogurt for her children.

"There were no coffee shops in the city. I remember the whole of Suzhou had only two places that provided espresso 15 years ago," Rabu recalls.

During the first several years in Suzhou, the MBA holder and economics doctor became a full-time housewife, taking care of her three children - one son and two daughters (one was adopted in China).

But being a foreign housewife in a totally strange environment was no easy job. She had to negotiate with the landlord using broken Chinese, found foreign schools for her children and made numerous phone calls to workers to repair her apartment's water pipes.

"Believe it or not, I miss those years though life was hard for us at that time," she says with a smile. "The foreigners in Suzhou in the late 1990s were so few that everybody knew each other. We were like a big family, helping and taking care of each other."

Today, Suzhou has many expats but "the tie is not close at all and they don't greet when they meet."

"Foreigners today in Suzhou don't need to change much about their original life and they can live pretty well without learning the local language. It's a good thing, but also a bad one because they won't have the chance to get to know the true spirit of the city," Rabu says.

Maybe because of the hard years she experienced, the French woman, who has seen Suzhou's transformation from an old city to the current modern one, has her own interpretation of the place.

"It seems that Chinese today are dedicated to making money and everything is money-oriented, which is so sad," she says with a bitter smile. "There should be more to life than money. Chinese focus too much on the outside and neglect their inner space."

That's also the reason she chose the old Pingjiang Road for her gallery.

The 800-year-old cobblestone-paved street, in her eyes, represents the essence of Suzhou - peaceful and profound.

The 15-year change in Suzhou, Rabu says, has both good and bad sides. "For example, young people today can get everything quickly and easily, which is good, but I think sometimes people also need to experience and go through all the troubles from the first to the last; the whole process itself is the most valuable treasure in life," she says.

Pascale Rabu

Nationality: French

Profession: Artist


? Impression of Suzhou:

Clean and beautiful.

? Motto for life:You can only know how hot the water is by touching it yourself. That is to say, one should live the life with a true heart.

? How to improveSuzhou:

The government should better protect the old area of the city. Never forget the past, where we came from.

? Strangest sight:

Clothes hung along the roadside.

? Worst or funniest experience in Suzhou:

No one talked to me when I first came to Suzhou.


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