• Bald Girls

Bald Girls


Juan Xu

As a title, Bald Girls, homonymic to The Bald Prima Donna, a famous play written in the 1930s by Eugène Ionesco, a French playwright of the Theatre of the Absurd, is metaphoric of the current multiple Chinese reality, along with the complex and awkward life reality of women due to the absurd and chaotic new social structure. With the modification of the title, we aim to imply that in the present Chinese context where Feminist Art is still something new, artists have to turn to arms instead of entertainment. Under the disguise of absurdity, artists are entrusted with the historical responsibility to bravely take the lead.

The exhibition includes three representative contemporary domestic or overseas female artists of different age groups. With their unique art language, they unconventionally challenge the long and established social identity for Chinese women and the concept of gender in China. They reject the common practice in feminist art that usually equates the female body with the subject of "me", reveal the limits of women's experience of pain and joy in patriarchal society, and review and interpret women's external and internal role in the prospective of cultural sociology and psychology. As feminist artists, they not only express their peculiar cultural perplexity in the consumer society and globalization but also take the advantage of the great social transformation in which they are able to find their independent and equal voice as women.

In terms of their distinctive feature of art, the three feminist artists can be categorized respectively as liberal realistic feminism, critical feminism and jovial feminism.

Li Xinmo, a most controversial and rebellious feminist artist in the contemporary art scene in China, who bases her art on her painful experience, refers mainly to body performance and examines the relationship between performance and film, between performance and painting. Therefore, her works, mostly associated with trauma, memory and death, usually create a tragic and ritual atmosphere. These works reveal the rebellion against the mainstream aesthetics by ripping open the reality as an individual female so as to reinforce various cruel and brutal visual images. Fully aware of women's disadvantaged position in the contemporary art scene in China, she has made great contribution to the development of feminist art in China by taking her responsibility as an independent critic as well, to spread her art criticism and to bravely voice her criticism in a field dominated by men. What she advocates as "liberal women's rights" includes human rights into women's rights and encourages pursuit of freedom and equality. Freedom of expression, reaction against the established rules and conventions, independence of women as an individual and freedom from any bonds of the mind are all necessary for liberal women.

From its outset, contemporary feminist art in China was connected with a feminist artist - Xiao Lu, who shot at her own diploma work Dialogue displayed at the national art exhibition in National Art Museum of China in 1989. This event made her name. Dialogue, as witness of the historical image, marked the beginning of contemporary art and contemporary feminist art in China. The publication of her autobiographical novel in 2010, dialogue, means a process for her own authorship as well as a conscious of her feminist consciousness. Her recent body performance, Sperms and Wedding, for example, directly challenge the social morals and imagination of the audience and question such issues in social ethics as affection and child, affection and marriage. Due to her works, she is referred to as a critical feminist, which quality is obvious in her new work What is Feminism, and the Flowers of Evil. While reexamining the possibilities and forms of feminism in China, it reflects on the relationship between women and social codes in contemporary art.

Before moving to Germany, Lan Jiny was strongly influenced by the '89 modern art movement and had got the same experiences as Li Xinmo and Xiao Lu had. After settling down overseas, she was exposed to Western art at a young age, therefore getting different life and aesthetic experience. In the 1960s, Feminism in Europe was not as strong as it used to be in the 90s. Living in a relatively developed social context, Lan Jiny does not seem to be as anxious as the other two artists to upset the status quo. To some extent, she benefits from the Feminist Movement in the West. Her body performance Chinese Apple, multi-media work Nine and a Half Weeks and the video work Dust make use of different art media to interpret her new feminism of pleasure of "enjoying the physical well-being, maintaining the balance between career and the family, and assimilating the essence of both the East and the West.

The radical women's liberation movement in late 19th century and the national ideology that "women can hold up half the sky" provided women a favorable social background that helped them to make their first step on their way to independence in personality and economy. Such top down "liberation", however, fails to bring about substantial changes in women's inner world due to its lack of self reflection and self examination on the part of women themselves. Sixty years has passed, Chinese women still have a lot to do on a deeper level before they finally form their own aesthetics about their value and build their awareness of gender on an equal footing with that of men. From the spontaneous ideological awakening in the 1980s to the World Conference on Women in Beijing in 1995, feminism got its meaning expanded and localized under the influence of globalization, which led to the Chinese version of "gender writing". Unfortunately, in this "reform and opening up" period, the emerging "women's movement" is being captivated and manipulated by the overwhelming consumerism, which puts to test their not so strong consciousness of feminism.

In the free and open atmosphere of the market economy, we have to admit, there is a growing group of urban middle class female intelligentsia, including entrepreneurs, writers, journalists. and artists, who, confident, highly educated and economically independent, have found the free space and opportunities to develop and express themselves. In terms of ideology, however, the cultural structure, which is based on male superiority, is still intact, is getting consolidated in a certain sense. Social behavior derived from this ideology, finds its expression in the tacit agreement on the part of women to return to their traditional role of being a passive and dominated dependent. Different pay for equal work and unequal possibilities still persists in some way. Women's liberation is the natural yardstick for social liberation, and therefore if women's rights keep improving in a society, so do human rights. With this exhibition we wish to express the humanistic concern in a broader sense in the form of concern for women.

In the global village in an information era, Chinese feminists are not as lonely as their predecessors a hundred years ago. Bald Girls has found great support from the global community of feminists. Herta Müller, Nobel Prize winner for literature in 2009, has written a short story for this exhibition, Chinese Eyes of Glass Ball, expresses her concern for feminist art in China with her unique and vivid contemporary literary language; the Italian feminism artist and curator Sandra Miranda expose the international feminism art's attention to the feminism of China from a social-political perspective.

More than an exhibition, Bald Girls represents an art concept: to fight against sexism, to exposit the essence of social gender, to advocate rebellious spirit in "the Bald" and unconquerable will in "the Guerrilla Girls", and move into a new age of gender.

Jan. 02, 2012