Hello, dear readers! I'm Mary, a Chinese architect and artist. I have been working as an architect in China for 20 years, but then we decided to move away from China. And then I found Riga – my happiness!

Three years ago I travelled with my husband to Milan through Riga, this small, but beautiful city. The spectacular skyline of the river Daugava attracted us very much. Six months later our family decided to move here and begin our lives from the beginning in Latvia. My little daughter started to go to the local school called RIMS. From the perspective of an architect and mother, I think the capital city of Latvia – Riga – meets the needs of our family at a high level.

When we moved here, it was interesting when next questions arose: only a few hundred Chinese people are living in Riga. In comparison with the population of China with its 1.3 billion inhabitants, Latvians are less than 2 million! It was such a surprise for me because I am used to billions and billions of people every day! It means that here you can be alone if you want, and it was a great feeling.

Master Yuan Ji

Next considerations were about working environment: the official language is Latvian and Russian and there is no large-scale urban construction. This made me change my state of mind about intensive and difficult everyday life in China, where you have to work very hard because of huge competition to more calm and soft feeling without never ending rush and fighting. So I began to think about opportunities what are possible to develop in this wonderful country. I love arts and I have a very good intuition in finding the right way for developing arts. When I was younger I used to be an assistant of Master Yuan Ji, the famous artist doing Chinese Painting and Calligraphy arts in Lingnan School in Shenzhen for 10 years. Master Yuan Ji taught me the best what you can see in my works nowadays. So regarding this experience, I wondered – what to do if I want to understand better the differences between Eastern and Western Cultures; how to break the gap and help the local people to establish good relationships with Chinese people? In my opinion, the most direct approach is "the integration" in local society. That’s why I picked up the pen and brush again, began to do sketches and oil painting course in Latvijas Mākslas akadēmija (LMA) and privately in one local studio in Riga. Thanks to my architect's experience in China, I have good communication skills, and immediately I met a lot of new friends in the cultural and art field. After this first step of integration in the local society of artists, I found a big potential in promoting the arts and culture to a wider world.

On 13th November 2015 I had my first exhibition in Riga Central Library (RCB): "Latvia – A Small and Beautiful Country". It was an interesting exchange project because I invited the local people who were depicted in my paintings to come and talk about their feelings. I felt that people with whom I worked together on this project were so kind, open and welcoming to me. That was my first step to show to local people my willing to understand their culture and to cooperate. I would like to thank RADIO 4 for giving me the chance to sing the Chinese song "Jasmine Flower". With this first experience, I was full of confidence about the bright future. Then in 2016, in Chinese Monkey year, I held my next exhibition also in Riga Central Library (RCB headquarter).

Then, step by step, I found myself already an old friend of Riga. In 2016 I met my partner and we both understood that we have the same vision about the culture and art connection between both countries. In summer of 2016, we established LCAC (Latvia-China Association of culture) and we did our first cultural and art projects. In August 2016, my team of LCAC organised the Latvia – China Architects’ and business forum, where we hosted a delegation of architects from China and let them meet with local architects and exchange experience and ideas.

Another project organised by LCAC was photo and art exhibition “SHOW YOU” in China, Beijing in September of 2016 within the project of Latvian National days “Taste Latvia” organised by the Latvian Investment and Development Agency. “SHOW YOU” was an exhibition that depicted the connection between the Latvian and the Chinese culture in Latvia. The project was organised in collaboration with The Latvian National opera and ballet and the Hongshi and Guanshe Gallery in the DRC (Liangmaqiao Diplomatic Office Building) in Beijing. The content of exhibition involved Latvian scenery, ballerinas of the Latvian National opera and ballet, Latvian and Chinese watercolour paintings, illustrated books and sketches of views of Riga. Also, the ambassador of the Republic of Latvia in the People’s Republic of China, Mr Māris Selga with his wife visited our exhibition. It was a great honour to give him my sketch as a gift.

With Latvian Ambassador Maris Selga
Other projects will be presented soon, now the organisational works are in the process. I like to communicate, I like to learn new things, I like to help and support people around me. Last autumn, I helped Citizen Art&Design to produce a series of short films reflecting the life of three Chinese families living in Riga. And I was also the financial supporter for one of the Latvian athletes to participate in “The 2016 Beijing International Triathlon Competition" and the result was amazing – 30th position from 1500 participants.

In April and October 2016, in collaboration with “Flying brush Art Studio” I had a wonderful chance to organise exhibitions of Chinese paintings and calligraphy art in Museum “Dauderi” and the Latvian National Library. Also in weekends, I hold lessons in Chinese calligraphy, where nice people come and study together this beautiful art. I have also helped local teachers such as in Latvijas Universitātes Humanitāro Zinatņu fakultāte, in Līvāni Art school and Ādaži school where to introduce students with Chinese art.

Calligraphy class
During last two years, I am very grateful to Latvian media for showing my projects! I admire the possibility to get new knowledge, to accumulate new projects, create new friendships and to explore new areas! And if this all goes together with painting, the life is wonderful! Besides this, I also try to develop myself in film and fashion industries, which I find very attractive and innovative!

After participating in “Art Riga Fair 2016”, I established "European Qi Pao Association", Qi Pao being one of the traditional types of Chinese dresses. This year, on 22nd January in Rīgas Latviešu biedrības nams the Chinese New Year celebration was held and in this event, many performances were organised, and one of those was also our association show. For the first time, we showed the Chinese clothing culture to our Latvian friends. One of the next projects includes collaboration with Latvian fashion designers “Zephyr”.

I have many ideas what to do and what to create, for example, my next step is to help to create a joint project of a movie between China and Latvia. Also in collaboration with “Happy Art museum”, we will continue to organise The Chinese film week in Riga. In April I will go Italy, to Fabriano, to participate in the International watercolour exhibition. I am very lucky for being one of the 15 artists representing Latvia. In future, I am planning to write a book that would show the Latvian’s unique beauty to China and to the world.

27th of January is the Chinese New Year's Eve. This year is China's Ding You year(丁酉鸡年). Thanks for this wonderful country and city! I sincerely wish to all my friends and Latvians a very happy new year. Enjoy our life in Riga, and I love you all from my heart!!

Hong Ge Zhang (Mary), 27.01.2017, People, Society