World Chambers

A Forum for the Arts of Contemporary Chinese Women

Female artists featured in Prestel’s 2009 text, Young Chinese Artists: The Next Generation — Part IV: Han Yajuan

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In good company in this book, Han Yajuan represents the experiences of her generation aptly, using the her own life as inspiration for her artwork. She represents the consumer-oriented environment of China’s modern urban only children. But her has an undeniable feminine bent:

Han Yajuan uses cartoonish playfulness in her paintings to express a fascination for high fashion and celebrity culture that is increasingly prevalent in China’s rapidly growing urban centers. She portrays the fantasy life of young Chinese women reflecting the rising economy’s promises of wealth, luxury, and new options of consumerism. ‘They are like my idols. They can be fashionable, but also brave. They can be really free and easy, fearlessly driving off in a VW Beetle, or being really successful. In short they can do lots of things I could not do (Noe, Piëch, Steiner, p. 97).

Han Yajuan, My Life in Bobo's Kingdom No. 8, 2006 Oil on canvas, 100 x 100 cm.

Noe et. al. make point of the pervasive nature of cartoon imagery in modern Chinese art as a result of the importation of western cartoon shows during the childhood of the post 1975 generation. The authors highlight a significant outgrowth of this cross-cultural influence that marks the power of silent translation that is imbued in the communal charge of visual culture:

…using a comic-inspired imaginary that already has an established international and intercultural visual diction enables Han Yajuan’s generation to communicate their ideas and feeligns to a global audience (Ibid).

Han employs elite brand logos in the global conversation about luxury and peerless drive. She seems also to bring this terminology into the titles of her pieces, such as the 2007 painting, Blue Fly, which evokes the designer online shopping site:

Han Yajuan Bluefly Oil on Canvas 150 x 150 cm 2007

Han Yajuan Bluefly Oil on Canvas 150 x 150 cm 2007

Upon first glance, this picture resemble an actual fly, made up of beautiful girls with a penchant for blue. Han has woven in many icons of material culture, however. Laptops have VAIO, netscape, and oddly, prada labels. Chanel, Dolce Gabbana, and Gucci are inscribed on books and apparel, and iPods/cell phones are a given. In general, I did not notice these details in my initial viewings of Han’s work. I was struck by the faces of the women portrayed. Their isolation, and their thick skin. Their blatant symbol status. The official, publicly recognized symbols, are only the icing on Han’s cake of superficial stature.

Karen Smith has said that Han’s characters are representative of China’s modern only children: coddled but expected to care for their parents, they face difficult realities without the past experience to indicate that they can rise to the challenge.

Han’s work was included in 2006 exhibition, Fancy Dream, curated by Zhu Tong and Eleonora Battiston. This exhibit portrayed the dreams and realities of China’s economic and cultural boom as expressed by the youth whose lives were shaped by these changes. Han Yajuan’s installation takes over the space of transition between other installations and floors of the Marella Gallery in the 798 Art District of Beijing.

Passing through the stairs of the main hall across the way, you enter in the “illusion” exhibit. From the stairwell all the way to the second floor exhibit hall is the entire image of the artist Han Yajuan. A three-segment projection from different directions portrays the entire image upon a wall, where the work of art apperas as one. As the spectators walk up to the next floor, they themselves, at times, will feel the process of the art itself, like being in a dreamland. This exhibit emerges beautifully, definitely making up for any of the previous exhibits’ shortcomings. Han Yajuan is an extremely sensitive artist, very adept at combining open spaces with her art and connecting the viewer as well (Fancy Dream, p. 10).

Han Yajuan’s video installation in this exhibit, Flash was heralded by the artist Zhang Xiaotao as being:

the “correction” of young Chinese female artists for a current meaningless and incomplete language…Through the video language she presents a varied but disordered working status; the noises stimulate our psychological and mental reaction…Han Yajuan’s series of oil paintings “Cow Kingdom” with their superb and coquettish colors appear very palatable and, at the same time, they create pets and pretty girls which double on the canvases. The pretty little cow figures and the Audi and BMW cars in the piece “Luxuries” are just a daydream, or are they reality? (Ibid, p. 78).

Han’s artist statement for Fancy Dream reveals that this sense of wonder at reality and illusion melded together is exactly the reaction she desires:

Often in our memory, we have sudden flashbacks of some shocking scenes, like falling into a pond when we were children, thrashing about and eventually standing up again. However, every time I have mentioned this to my mum, she always said no such things happened to me. Later, even I started to doubt it. These kind facts are so important and related to our destiny, that I wonder whether they are something minted somewhere.

The work Flash Memory attempts to exaggerate, with a group of suggestive images, a kind of concern about consistency and persistence of the clue about human existence. In fact, the expansion of this clue is a process of searching, locating and revising, and it is likely to lead to senseless lost [sic], or to the deletion of tracks due to an accident in our memory, or maybe has been distorted, or even being bluntly disordered by “external forces.” No person would like to accept such a result. The process of research and revision is something full of efforts and sightlessness, it is vulnerable and I thought it would as well [have] been real and interesting (Ibid).

Han may be solidifying her own language, however while her symbols are most often very feminine, the story she tells is of her generation, not her gender. She does not seem bound to the characteristics of Nuxing Yishu, and she does not seem to be reacting to female predecessors. Her motivations may stem primarily from an internal struggle with her place in the external world of modern Chinese youth, and a desire to make clear the blur between imagination, fate, and fact.

More can be found on Han Yajuan at:


Written by Andrea Descoteaux Hugg

January 23, 2010 at 1:00 AM

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