ART News


Challenging gender stereotypes, Xiao Lu, Xiang Jing, Cao Fei and O Zhang show us the World through a female gaze.

8th March 2022 | Guest Writer: Rachele Rosina
To honour International Women's Day, learn more about four Chinese Woman artists that have contributed to making Contemporary Art more representative of both genders.
Xiao Lu 肖鲁
Xiao Lu is one of the most controversial Chinese Contemporary artists since 1989, when just after a couple of hours from the opening of the China/Avant-Garde Exhibition, she suddenly shot her artwork Dialogue, causing the shutdown of the whole show.

Dialogue comes from a place of uneasiness of the artist, who had been sexually abused by a prominent Socialist Realist artist, a good friend of her father. On the day she called him from a phone booth to express and process her scarred feelings, the man hung the phone, blaming the victim. The artwork, showing a man and a woman in phone booths talking to each other, yet separated and enclosed in their own universes, is considered one of the first significant feminist artwork of Chinese contemporary art. While the gunshot had later been politicised in the turmoil of the protests in Beijing in 1989, the artist always remarked that her intention was not a political attack but rather an investigation of her emotional issues.

Xiao Lu, Dialogue, 1989, chromogenic print, printed in 2006, 81x119.7 cm. MoMA. © Xiao Lu 2022

Xiang Jing 向京
Born in Beijing in 1968, Xiang Jing is a contemporary Chinese sculpture artist.
Her work unveils women's bodies to investigate deeper topics that are not immediately visible to human eyes. Her research comes from a profound reflection on the role of women in traditional Chinese society, where they were only meant to relate themselves to their family and not as an individual with self-worth. Although this no longer formally exists, the idea is still deeply rooted in everyday life. Digesting the issue during her thirties, the artist decided to show women's problems through a woman's point of view.

Her artworks escape the collectivism of Chinese women's lives, as they are all "about the self". The bodies exist as they are for themselves, not to be gazed upon: their shapes escape beauty norms, their eyes reveal a sense of emptiness, the naked skin is an invite to expose their vulnerability. Although the sculptures have raised critics from the uncomfortable viewers, the artist aims to show that the body is a "vessel" - although it is necessary to live with them, we need to make an effort to understand what goes on underneath the skin, in our inner world.

Xiang Jing, The Open, 2006, colour paint on reinforced fiberglass. Tate. © Xiang Jing

Cao Fei 曹斐
Born in 1978, Cao Fei investigates the effects of the rapid changes of China on the population born after the Cultural Revolution. In her works, the line between reality and dream is thinner, with results that border with sci-fi.
One of her main focuses has been documenting Chinese youth's progressive immersion in the digital network, pioneering digital art in virtual reality.

In the early 2000s, browsing Second Life - a platform that allowed one to re-invent oneself through an avatar - Cao Fei, aka Tracy China, found out China was not well represented. Other users worldwide had already built the monuments of their cities, such as the Tour Eiffel or Times Square. At the same time, the Forbidden City was the only (old fashioned) icon of her country, not representative of its recent developments. She then started building RMB City, borrowing the name from Renminbi, the Chinese currency, to represent the economical and industrial boom, and filling it with a range of references to China - landmarks such as Tiananmen Square, the Bird's Nest stadium and the Oriental Pearl TV Tower of Shanghai.
RMB City and Second Life in general, offered freedom: to be and become whoever one wanted, to broaden one's horizon by meeting people from around the world: Tracy China falls in love and has a child, artists and collectors meet and further develop the city, for example. In the historical moment of massive transformation of the country, the project represented an unprecedented experiment in urban planning, challenging the borders of "reality".
The video artworks generated from RMB City are now collected in museums worldwide.

Cao Fei, RMB City: a Second Life City Planning, 2007, Still from interactive video. Courtesy of Net Art Anthology. © Cao Fei

O Zhang 张鸥

O Zhang, born in Guangzhou in 1976 and now based in New York, is now mostly known for her photographies depicting Chinese youth dealing with conflicting worlds: the Chinese communist legacy, the traditional character of the country, western culture and the changes caused by the rapid development during the last few decades.

In particular, the project The World is Yours (But Also Ours) - completed in 2008 - sees young girls and boys wearing t-shirts with "Chinglish" sentences posing in front of Chinese landmarks, accompanied by a title in the style of the revolution-era propaganda poster. The project itself is named after a speech that Mao Zedong addressed to the Chinese youth of the Cultural Revolution, while each of the artworks is a revisitation of the posters that accompanied the artist's childhood, with most of the titles taken from the Chairman's Little Red Book. The ambiguity of the images, divided between the past, the present and the future of the country, capture the struggle of the youngsters growing amid the economic and political conflicts of contemporary China. What could be seen as funny and out of place (many of the sentences on the t-shirts have little to no meaning in English), at a closer look, is a record of the convergence of cultures and the rapid changes of the country.

O Zhang, "CHINA ADD GASOLINE" from The World is Yours (But Also Ours), 2008. Courtesy of © O Zhang

About the Writer
Rachele Rosina specialises in Art of China, Japan and Korea.

After graduating from Beijing in Chinese Language and Culture, Rachele moved to London in 2018 to complete her MA in History of Art and Archaeology of East Asia at SOAS University of London.
Fascinated by the city’s restless art scene, she now works in the art industry.

With a focus on contemporary art and cultural studies, she is interested in the stories behind the artworks and wonders a lot about the future of art.


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