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Broad MSU Presents Exhibition Exploring Changing Role of Women in Chinese Culture


Fire Within: A New Generation of Chinese Women Artists Features Twenty-Seven Emerging Artists Working in Painting, Installation, Sculpture, Video, Animation, Photography, and Performance

Fire Within: A New Generation of Chinese Women Artists Features Twenty-Seven Emerging Artists Working in Painting, Installation, Sculpture, Video, Animation, Photography, and Performance

The Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum at Michigan State University (Broad MSU) presents a group exhibition that investigates a wide range of themes surrounding the changing role of women in China, Fire Within: A New Generation of Chinese Women Artists. On view August 27, 2016–February 12, 2017, the exhibition features twenty-seven emerging artists working across media, including performances by Hu Jiayi and Lin Ran.

The generation of artists born in China during the 1970s and 1980s witnessed significant changes throughout their society as the country opened up to foreign markets and international exchange. The artists featured in Fire Within confront ideological, cultural, and social topics throughout their work—including the changing perceptions of cultural and gender identity, social dynamics and status, and traditional values and belief systems.

“Rooted in experiences within a rapidly modernizing China, the artists in this exhibition offer new perspectives and ways of understanding an array of cultural, social, and political spheres throughout contemporary life,” said Dr. Wang Chunchen, Adjunct Curator at the Broad MSU. “The breadth of perspectives represented by some of the most exciting artists working in the country today offers the opportunity for intergenerational and cross-cultural dialogues on subjects both universal and specific to life in Chinese society. We’re proud to introduce the work of many of these artists to American audiences for the first time.”

The exhibition spans three galleries within the Zaha Hadid-designed museum, anchored by overarching themes within each: “Shifting Identities” explores how a changing China alters constructions of identity; “Body as Site” focuses on the physical body as a literal and figurative site of discussion and debate; and “Confronting Tradition” highlights the ways in which artists draw inspiration from classical texts, teachings, and artistic practices to reinterpret and question evolving power structures and social norms.

Highlights include:

  • GengXue’s Mr. Sea (2013-14) uses porcelain figures in an elaborate stop-motion animation video work adapted from a traditional 18th-century Chinese text, Liao Zhai Zhi Yi (Strange Tales from a Chinese Studio). The use of porcelain figures throughout the thirteen-minute work underscores the fragility of the characters themselves and the relationship between long-established Chinese values and rapid modernization.
  • Yu Feifei’s installation I want to. But I shouldn’t (2015) considers issues of repression and surveillance throughout society, which emanate from both internal and external forces. A fractured plaster mask is engulfed by an expansive installation of screen-printed tissue paper that obsessively repeat the work’s title, reflecting the deeply personal and suffocating nature of these experiences.
  • In Art should be beautiful, Artist should be beautiful (2015), Pei Li addresses a type of plastic surgery common amongst Chinese woman as a result of societal pressures to conform to increasingly unattainable norms of beauty and femininity. The bust depicts a young woman, with a piece of bone shaved from the figure’s face cast in silver and placed just below.
  • Hu Jiayi is represented with Ice Skate (2014), which comments on the erasure of the natural environment in the wake of modernization through a short video documenting a performance by the artist in her hometown of Xinjiang wherein she attempted to ice skate on tempered glass in a construction site. Hu will also perform Suitcase (2016), which addresses her experience of dislocation in the face of greater mobility brought about by China’s development. The U.S. premiere of the performance will be realized across two galleries, creating an installation that will become a permanent part of the exhibition. In both works, the artist presents social observations by way of very personal experiences.
  • Lin Ran’s Island (2014-15) embodies the collective and personal experiences of LGBTQ individuals in Chinese society. A traditional Chinese medical herb cupboard is filled and surrounded by objects of particular meaning to members of this community—photographs, letters, clothing, marriage certificates, drawings, etc.—making visible a population that remains largely invisible. Accompanying the installation, Lin Ran will perform Captivity (2007) on the night of the exhibition’s opening, exploring notions of isolation and constraint through the physical entanglement of her body in space.

A comprehensive catalog will accompany Fire Within, with an essay by Dr. Wang and individual interviews with the artists featured in the exhibition.

Fire Within: A New Generation of Chinese Women Artists is co-organized by the Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum at Michigan State University and the Central Academy of Fine Arts Art Museum in Beijing, China. The exhibition is curated by Dr. Wang Chunchen, Broad MSU Adjunct Curator and Head of the Curatorial Research Department at CAFAM, in collaboration with Steven L. Bridges, Broad MSU Assistant Curator. Support for this exhibition is provided by the Eli and Edythe Broad Endowed Fund; the Ministry of Culture of the People’s Republic of China; and the China Arts and Entertainment Group.