In Bangkok, the exhibit of a group of Chinese contemporary artists ranges from brutally frank to vibrant and ethereal. They want to stake out their space, writes Lynette Lee Corporal.
BANGKOK, Jan 14 (The Asian Eye) - Contemporary Chinese women artists are breaking free from traditional society's image of femininity, facing up to both their strengths and weaknesses and balancing these to achieve wholeness.
Indeed, the exhibit entitled 'Women in a Society of Dual Sexuality: The Exhibition of Contemporary Chinese Female Artists', which ends Jan 20 at the Tang Gallery in Silom Galleria here, is a testament to the so-called fairer sex's awakening to her long-buried sense of self-worth. More than just a sexual being, she is also an individual.
Suggestive rather than aggressive, the works of the Chinese women artists are a far cry from the brutish assertiveness of the '70s women's lib movement. This time around, the steely yet silky strength of femininity prevails. "This show may have touches of feminism but it's not about that at all. It's not about voices that need to be heard but rather an expression of opening up. It's about self- expression rather than self-empowerment," Tang Contemporary Art curator Josef Ng told 'The Asian Eye".
The 13 female Chinese artists whose powerful works were featured are Cai Jin, Chen Ke, Chen Lingyang, Chen Qingqing, Chen Qiulin, Cui
Xuiwen, Jiang Jie, Peng Yu, Shen Na, Xiang Jiang, Xiao Lu, Xiong Lijun and Yu Hong.
These women in their mid-20s to early 40s get their points across with provocative works that challenge the boundaries set by society. Some works are playful and vibrant, while others are ethereal and borders on the spiritual. Others, meanwhile, jar the senses with their brutal frankness.
According to Ng, the exhibit should be looked at in the context of women's' role in China's recent history. During Mao Tse Tung's Cultural Revolution in the '70s, he said, gender roles were blurred somehow and both sexes were appointed to influential positions as an individual, and not because they were either men or women.
"It was all about ideology. Chinese women did not have problems with
self-empowerment because they have a history of leadership. Maybe not
politically but they were respected and were influential to a certain extent," said Ng, citing as an example Mao Tse Tung's fourth wife, Jiang Qing.
Known as Madame Mao, this actress-turned-top politician was deputy
director of the Cultural Revolution, which seized power from the ruling elite of the Communist Party of China in the '60s and whose effects remain a pained chapter in Chinese society. She also headed the infamous Gang of Four, which was charged for attempting to take control of power via militia coups. She was later killed.
With irony, Ng noted that while women were being given access to power in China in the '70s, the women's liberation movement was gaining ground in the West.
The exhibit urges viewers to look beyond stereotypes and actually gives them a glimpse of a woman's multiple facets. The younger generation would most likely identify with Xiong Lijun's whimsical images of women that echo the pop culture charm of Japanese anime. Other would probably relate with Chen Quilin's 'I am Angel' photograph series for its hopeful theme of survival.
Yu Hong's flowing silk paintings, for instance, provide a delicate balance to the bolder works of the other artists, a paean to a woman's finer qualities. Its soft features ably portray a woman's traditional 'image' of nurturer.
A few steps ahead take the viewer to the more earthy side of femininity with Hangzhou-born artist Xiao Lu's installation work entitled 'Expiry Date'. Featuring nine kinds of fruits in glass cases in varying stages of decomposition, the work assaults the senses with its unpredictability, a natural characteristic of life cycles.
Xiao Lu's grim self-portrait of 16 black and white, bullet-ridden photographs chronicles 16 years of the process of letting go. Her own image of shooting a gun seems like a self-exorcism of sorts for her self-imposed silence.
"It's a difficult piece because here, not only because she wants to confront the past, but also because of the strong contextual element
attached to this work," said Ng.
He related that Xiao Lu did an installation work 17 years ago in Beijing where she fired a real gun in an avant-garde exhibit. Coming right after the Tiananmen Massacre that killed hundreds of civilians protesting for freedom, that action prompted officials to shut down the show for a good two hours, explained Ng.
Another work dripping with political overtones is that of Cui Xuiwen's series of photographs depicting an innocent-looking yet pregnant woman-child.
"They're very well composed," said Ng. "Male and female viewers naturally get drawn to this work because it arouses their protective instinct. You see different kinds of emotion here as well, from confusion to fear."
Ng added that it was no accident the artist chose to have Tiananmen
Square in the background. Perhaps it's Cui's personal statement about how females are still viewed in traditional Chinese society where sons are more 'valued' than daughters. Or maybe it reflects the changing values of Chinese women and the turmoil they go through as they try to find their own place in the society.
One of the most striking piece of work is Cheng Lingyang's '12 Flower Months'. Shocking in its bluntness, it consists of 12 differently framed photographs of a woman's genitalia during each monthly period.
According to Ng, this particular work got mix reactions. Some female
viewers lauded it for its beauty and candour, but said it was disturbing as well. The males, meanwhile, were forced to look at the female genitalia not in a sexual manner but in a more aesthetic, and therefore deeper, level.
Being confronted with what conventional society used to consider as shameful and unclean, the viewer learns to accept and develop the willingness to confront such deep-seated taboos.
The quest for authenticity always begins by looking within. These contemporary women artists have decided to lead the way, it is up to
everyone to follow suit. (END/IPSAP/LC/JS/120107)