“Most people are other people. Their thoughts are someone else’s opinions, their lives a mimicry, their passions a quotation.” This is a quote from Oscar Wilde. Reading this I can not stop thinking about questions such as do we meet thousands of other people when we meet one individual, how much do other people influence us in the formation of our own identity and are we who we think we are or what other people perceive us to be.
Like the first few times that you look in the mirror and the period in which your body changes alongside with your facial features, you meet yourself, at least the physical self.
China is changing just like everybody else but a lot of the time she chooses to use the mirror inside the closet, concealing the view so others can not see her, adore her, judge her, hate her, feel indifferently… She is looking at an old photograph and she is filled with bittersweet nostalgia. She is not who she was back then and now she is just an acquaintance to her former self. At times she is proud of where she is, the person she has become after all the tragedies and obstacles but she has enough sense of humor to mock her in a self-deprecating manner.
Under Mao’s rule, the Cultural Revolution of 1966 meant that only artwork that was supporting the socialist society was allowed to exist. Artists whose work deemed to be too bourgeoisie or anti-socialist were persecuted and prevented from working. The almost oxymoron of encouraging exploration of traditional methods whilst forbidding the return to traditional themes confused many.
It was only after Mao’s death that the period of state supported art ended. This opened the doors for artists to reflect upon the new realities that China is now facing.
CHINA NOW exhibition focuses on the photographers from the post-cultural revolution China to reintroduce the country that is in hiding. The Internet censorship becomes the closet doors that hold China and her mirror inside whilst the gallery space holds the flies on the wall that look at her. Strangers catch a glimpse of China to reacquaint after a long period of silence.
The theme of identity is explored through the way an outsider may perceive one. Tseng Kwong Chi’s self portraits pokes fun at the way Westerner’s perceived China in the 1980’s whilst Sun Ji’s decaying landscapes makes an introduction to nostalgia in reference to changing urbanscapes and what this may mean at an individual level.
Zhe Chen and Chi Peng deal with confusion of identity and consubstantiality. Hong Hao’s still-lives allows the viewer to question if what we own is whom we are by accepting the viewer to peek into his belongings and Song Chao equally opens up by sharing his daily working life.
DISCLAIMER: I do not own the copyright of these photographs and each image is labelled by the photographer alongside its title and year of production.