World Chambers

A Forum for the Arts of Contemporary Chinese Women

Li Shuang

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1978-1979 was a significant period in the development of contemporary Chinese art, which did not come into existence until the events of the late 1970s, particularly the opening of China by Deng Xiao Ping that enabled artists to create an ideological space for their work. Not since before 1948 had artists been able to cultivate individual expression without the restraints of socialist realism and political persecution. “After years of intellectual blankness during the Communist regime, the new forms that sprang up at this time were categorized under the common terms of ‘avant-garde art’ or “experimental art’” (Albertini, 2008, 8). This led to a national revitalization of the arts, with artists and writers experimenting, networking, and stirring up followers throughout the country. When this culminated in the New Wave Movement of 1985, artists were met with looser government restrictions regarding censorship, and colonies of artists flourished in over twenty-five cities throughout China (Ibid). This freedom did not last however, and the first group of artists to emerge during these social changes was forced to move abroad after exhibitions with political overtones back-lashed in political persecution. These artists have only in recent years begun returning to China. Although predominantly a male group, a small number of notable female participants have gained international prominence. For example, Li Shuang, who continues to live in Paris, but returned to shows in the mainland beginning in 2006 (Verlag Frauen Museum, 1999, 174; Galerie Du Monde, 2009).

As the only woman among the founding artists in the Stars (Xingxing) group that self-assembled during 1979 in an attempt to shake loose the stranglehold of the government on China’s artistic communities, Shuang is a powerful figure in the story of contemporary female artists. Imprisoned for living in Beijing with her French fiancé, diplomat Emmanuel Bellefroid, Shuang was freed at the request of future French president Francois Mitterand in a meeting with Deng Xiaoping, and moved to France to marry Bellefoid. Her paintings now include portraits of characters with Buddha-like features and titles that play on traditional Chinese thees, such as Pine Tree & Crane (image below, Oil on canvas, 195 x 130 cm, 2007, ArtZine).

It is difficult to categorize this work within the restrictive descriptions of women’s artwork previously mentioned. Her earlier works during the late 1970s and 1980s are murky and abstract; and do appear to show a development akin to that described by the scholars cited above. She includes increasingly feminine characters, and in 2001, suggests a direct communication between the feminine and the masculine that shows the feminine as passive perhaps, but persistent and numerous.

Dialogue, Oil on Canvas, 116 X 81cm, 2001, ArtZine

Overall , her work shows traits of the characteristics of the 1980s and 1990s, but it also is haunting in its rich colors combined with icey, half-god stares. She is proof that the broad sweeps that were used to define modern female artists passed over many women with too much haste.

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Written by Andrea Descoteaux Hugg

March 8, 2010 at 11:03 PM

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