Contemporary Artists in China


Ai Weiwei, Oil Spill, 2006, porcelain, 12 discs, various sizes

China Studies Centre, University of Sydney, and Sydney Ideas

Contemporary Artists in China: how they operate between freedom and restriction

6.00pm – 7.30pm, Thursday 30 July 2015
Law School Foyer, Level 2 Sydney Law School
Eastern Avenue, The University of Sydney

Art scholar and curator Edmund Capon in conversation with contemporary Chinese artists Shen Jiawei and Lindy Lee. Chaired by Professor Kerry Brown, Director of the China Studies Centre.

“The first time I visited China, in September-October 1972, the last thing that was on anybody’s mind was art. The Cultural Revolution was past its most lunatic phase but nonetheless alive and well; most schools, certainly universities, museums and any institutions of higher and cultural value were absolutely and firmly closed. The streets were filled with sullen masses of Mao-suited citizens and the overbearing sense of leaden morosity was only lifted by the regular interventions of noisy but well-drilled little red guards whose red scarves were a memorable and welcome relief to the eternal drabness of the fashion of the day.

In a mere 40 years the transformation has been remarkable…as remarkable as China’s tumultuous history of the last 150 years. Art has been and is a potent chronicler of change and evolution and revolution – and the journey of contemporary art in China over the last 3 decades is not just evidence of that journey, art was a participant. Inevitably it has been a journey of frequent controversy and confrontation – contemporary art in China is in many ways rather like a one man band – a solitary if noisy voice shouting at the bewildered masses and admonishing the obduracy of the political status quo. Art in China has never been in the mould of that Western conceit of ‘art for art’s sake’; art has always had its purpose and never more so than today as her contemporary artists seek to evoke the will and the spirit for change – a change that invariably is enshrined in the pursuit of political and social liberation.

Little surprise therefore that art in China today is as combative, confronting, often cynical, and seldom humorous and re-affirming. It is I think also worth just touching on the current attitude to the past – in a nation that is obsessively investing in reconstruction and modern infrastructure with it might seem little regard for its incredible inheritance of material culture there is, nonetheless, a growing, if pragmatic obsession with that inheritance.”

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