Dialogue: What Women Artists Need Is A Thoughtful Critique Of Chinese Cultural Conditions
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Despite the meteoric rise and popularity of contemporary Chinese art, there is a distinct lack of Chinese women artists represented in exhibitions and scholarship. Women artists are said to have ‘emerged’ in the 1990s, a full decade after their male counterparts spent the 1980s experimenting with political and avant-garde art. This delay, I argue, is what has affected the representation of women artists. Why, then, and for what reasons were women delayed in their ‘emergence’? To answer this question, I examine a multiplicity of patriarchal, historical, sociopolitical, and identity cultural conditions that have shaped – and arguably suppressed – the space that Chinese women artists were/are allotted. My thesis focuses on the '85 New Wave Movement, which is considered the post-Cultural Revolution/post-Open Door Policy, watershed movement for contemporary Chinese art, and the lack of representation of women artists during this movement. I argue that the lack of representation of women artists during the ’85 New Wave is what delayed their ‘emergence’ until the 1990s, hindering their representation in contemporary Chinese art. First, I establish two cultural conditions that frame and contextualize the climate going into the ’85 New Wave: the Chinese patriarchy and (post-)Mao China. Second, I examine two milestone exhibitions from the ’85 New Wave and discuss the lack of women artists; and scholarship that has been written (or not) by the eminent critics and scholars of contemporary Chinese art on the lack of representation of women artists. Third, I introduce and analyze three contemporary cultural conditions that are the crux of women artists’ representation moving out of the ’85 New Wave into the present: the government, guanxi, and feminism. Finally, I focus on the woman artist Xiao Lu and how her representation has been affected by the aforementioned cultural conditions. In conclusion, my thesis argues it is imperative for the contemporary Chinese art world to thoughtfully reconsider these cultural conditions such that contemporary Chinese women artists receive the full representation and space owed to them.