World Chambers

A Forum for the Arts of Contemporary Chinese Women

Metropolis Now! at Meridian International Center, Washington, D.C.

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The Meridian International Center in Washington, D.C. has organized and is currently hosting a modern Chinese art exhibit, Metropolis Now!, that features 31 contemporary Chinese artists, 7 of which are female. The female artists included—Xing Danwen, Wang Xiaohui, Liu Ren, Liu Liyun, Lin Tianmiao, Li Wei, Han Yajuan—echo the stated intent of the exhibit to chronicle “the significant changes taking place in China as that country experiences the rapid growth of its cities and the impact of globalization.” The artists chosen come from multiple generations and also represent the developments that have occurred in the field of “women’s art” during their professional lifetimes.

The exhibit’s website includes a note about each artist’s vision, many of which reveal the ways in which China’s rapid development has impacted their creativity. From the exhibit’s artist page:

Han Yajuan, Before the Big Night, 2008. Oil on canvas:

Before the Big Night, 2008. Oil on canvas.

Like many people born in the 1980s, she is constantly in pursuit of new sensations and fresh experiences and her paintings reveal that overarching quest of her generation. The cartoon-like language in Han Yajuan’s works not only effectively represents the romance and simplicity of this group, but also shows the difference between their visual understanding and visual representation. These young artists share similar life experiences and most of them have subconsciously acquiesced to consumerism through their art.

Han, born in 1980, is also included in the new text, Young Chinese Artists: the Next Generation that highlights the work of those artists born around or after 1975. The cartoonish and ultimately “girly” quality of her work confirms the characteristics ascribed to art produced by Chinese women within the category nuxing yishu (women’s art), but while the immediate sense of the work is personal and internal, its message is one that reflects the artist’s generation and the future of Chinese society. By having “subconsciously acquiesced to consumerism through their art,” these artists make pointed statements about modern society. The depiction of materialistic caricatures of Han’s generation may be an intentional and pointed statement about the shortcomings of herself and her peers.

Lin Tianmiao is an impressively established artist, born in 1961, who came of professional age during the period in which the work of female artists in China was characterized by the category of nuxing yishu. She resists classification as a feminist artist, and it is questionable to apply this western term to any of China’s female artists, but her work does have a definite focus on the female experience (a key point of nuxing yishu, and what critics say separate the artwork of this era from that of their female predecessors).

From the curators of Metropolis Now!:

The installation art and conceptual photography of this extremely influential woman artist embody a unique style and femininity. Her greatest strength is the ability to combine the intricacy of life experiences with a manipulation of materials. Lin Tianmiao’s woven silk installations require significant manual labor and are a reflection of traditional craftwork.

Lin Tianmiao, Shadow No. 1, 2008. Mixed Media.

Lin Tianmiao, Shadow No. 1, 2008. Mixed Media.

The time-intensive incorporation of thread recalls China’s female tradition of cloth production and embroidery, which “echo(s) the repetitive, redundant duties of female labor” (Albertini, 2008, 72). The futility of encasement that is inflicted upon previously functional items in The Proliferation of Thread-Winding series (1995-1997) also bring to mind the long-standing tradition of foot-binding, which significantly decreased the ability of late imperial women to function on their feet.

Xing Danwen, born in 1967, is in the same professional generation with Lin. Her work is concentrated around the impact of urbanity on personal and environmental well-being. It encases cultural memory and portrays the sense of being caught in something larger than oneself. Xing, like Lin, has travelled extensively has held successful exhibitions in the west. This is a trait that is shared by their male contemporaries who left China in order to produce art without censorship or political prosecution. It has only been in recent years that these have begun to return in large numbers.

The curators of Metropolis Now! depict her work thus:

Her works are the result of frequent travels around the world. According to this artist, ‘In modern cities solitude means more than being alone. It is a psychological experience. New objects are intertwined with old ones, and it seems that people are living in grids.’ In her photographs the exteriors of building models are always the initial focus. The dramatic scenes inside are perceived only through careful observation. Xing Danwen’s virtual scenes permit audiences to see and feel people’s solitude and the gaps between them.

Urban Fiction Series No. 15, 2008. C-print.  Exhibited by Meridian courtesy of the artist and Ooi Botos Gallery.

Urban Fiction Series No. 15, 2008. C-print. Exhibited by Meridian courtesy of the artist and Ooi Botos Gallery.

The site includes the following note: “The artwork was produced in a format that differs from Xing Danwen’s Series specifically for this exhibition.” C-prints are not different for the artist, and I wonder if this alteration has to do with the scale of the images since her work in this series is incredibly detailed. There are only a few things that draw me to D.C., but this exhibition is most certainly one of them. Thank you to the people of the Meridian International Center for putting together this topical and exciting show!

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Written by Andrea Descoteaux Hugg

July 27, 2009 at 5:34 AM

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