After The Symposium Gender In Chinese Contemporary Art By Kathy Cao

On 22nd February, 2018, the Symposium Gender in Chinese Contemporary Art held in Tate Modern Museum. The propaganda picture of the symposium is a screenshot from an audio work made by Ma Qiusha, who is a young female artist graduated from China Central Academy of Fine Arts. In the audio, she is saying in a vague voice in Chinese, “because of my coming to the world as a girl not a very expected boy” with a blade in her mouth. The audio work is a personal monologue tells about her education experiences and pressure from the expectation of her parents. The screenshot is grab from the start of the audio, after a joke about how she was named- if I am a boy, my name would be Shang Di (the pronunciation is same with God in Chinese), if I am a girl, the name would be Ma Qiusha. The narrative of personal experience exactly echoes the theme of the symposium, female and Chinese, which are established dual identity tags.

The symposium is a part of the multi-venue collaborative exhibition NOW: A Dialogue on Female Chinese Contemporary Artists started from 15th February. The exhibition is co-organised by Plus Tate, the China Central Academy of Fine Arts and the Centre for Chinese Contemporary Art in collaboration with HOME, Manchester; Middlesbrough Institute of Modern Art; Nottingham Contemporary and Turner Contemporary, Margate. The programme is sponsored by the China National Arts Fund and supported by British Council, China. It is also the first large-scale overseas exhibition with theme of gender in Chinese art.

The academic narrative and criticism come from the western scholars- Monica Merlin and Ros Holmes, the former provides the historical introduction of women artists and gender in contemporary Chinese art, and latter examines a series of online artworks by young Chinese female artists Ye Funa and Miao Ying. The second half of the symposium focus on individual practices, with artist presentation from Nabuqi, Ma Qiusha and Ye Funa followed by a discussion moderated by Song Xiaoxia. Speakers’ different languages split the symposium into distinct two parts, which are connected by non-fluent simultaneous interpretations. Before the final Q&A, Song Xiaoxia first pointed out a question to the three artists proposedly- how does the female identity influence your art creation? If it does, please share with us, if it does not, just say it out without hesitation. The question obviously indicates the purpose and ambitions of the exhibitions- “to re-open a dialogue on the way female artists are positioning themselves in China now and to reveal how the female artists break the traditional concept of Chinese female and feminine art.”

Naturally, the three artists gave a consist answer: NO!


“There seems not much differences between male classmates and female classmates according to my education experience.”


“I might considered how to create art works as a female when I was in school, but after I started professional creation, the approach is put away.”

It is noticeable that organizers and curators plan a deconstruction practice of Chinese female art under the title of Chinese female art. However, the trial of breaking tags seems too advanced for audience to accept. The following questions both in Chinese and English did not echo the moderator. “So how do you balance the female identify in your art creation?” “How do you deal with the culture shock between the east and the west?”……Faced with these questions, Song Xiaoxia responds, “firstly you need to clarify your conception of the west and the east before asking the culture shock between them.”

In fact, the exhibitions hold in the UK exactly shows the ambivalent perspective between the east and the west, which is contained in Chinese feminist art when it first pointed out. In the west, feminist art is a criticism trend and art practice happened under the influence of the feminist movement. To the contrast, in China, on the one hand, the art works created by female artists show more self-reflections coming from individual experiences. On the other hand, although there are pioneers like Tao Yongbai and Xu Hong, feminist art criticism has not completely matured. In the other word, the concept of Chinese female art itself innately contains the different perspectives from the east and the west. While, in this exhibitions and the symposium, the new trend of Chinese female art becomes a comprehensive break of the established identities and perspectives.

As a result, will the Chinese female art getting rid of the female and the east identifies lead to a reestablishment after deconstruction, or will it fall into a self-made trap started with female identity and ended with a denial of gender difference?

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