Friday, March 26, 2010

“Women on Women” at the Hong Miao Gallery

Christina Xiong

Artist names: Yan Zheng'an, Chen Xiaodan, Gao Qian, Li Geye, Barbara Edelstein, Virginie Lerouge Knight, Christin Kalweit and Zane Mellupe

Experiencing art involves connecting history and one's environment to
the artist's own perspective. When I first walked into the gallery, I
did not know the history of the Hong Miao temple. However, I was
familiar with the "Guan Yin Pu Sha" from folklore; her presence on
altars in the temple created a feminine ambience, one of unconditional
love, compassion and kindness. Of course, this personification of the
"patron of mothers" is one way of viewing what an ideal woman should
be. However, the roles of women seem to change with time and our
cultural environment. As I have observed from the artwork, even women
themselves, have different reflections on how their own identities fit
into society. Among the 8 female artists, there are two distinct
groups; 4 of them are Shanghainese, the other 4, Westerners. I am
curious about this grouping based on nationality. How do Chinese and
Western artists' perspectives differ?

The Western artists featured at Women on Women seem to be more vibrant
and assertive with their opinions. For example, Christin Kalweit's
prints on canvas express discontent with the domestic life commonly
associated with women and encourage women to unite and liberate
themselves, especially since "my hands are of your color". "Cycle"
resembles a month of 30 days on a calendar, symbolizing stages in life
or what is expected, especially motherhood, of a woman. Barbara's Tree
of Life notes the importance of the "life-giving and life-sustaining"
abilities of a woman. Like the roots of a tree, women give birth and
provide sustenance for diverse civilizations (leaves) and it is
because of this, women should be even more confident about their
roles. I feel that this concept of empowering women is somewhat
lacking in a few pieces by the Chinese artists. Li Ge Ye, in
"Floating", certainly portrays the challenging environment that women,
as an underrepresented group, face. Whereas the women are just
"floating", struggling to navigate the waters, men seem to be moving
forward. Although this piece certainly brings to point a female's life
difficulties, I feel that the tone is less liberal than Kalweit's
pieces. Personally, it serves less as a motivating force for me to
take initiative, because there is less of a connection. Then again,
perhaps this is Li Ge Ye's objective. This more conservative
perspective can very well be associated with the cultural norms that
she grew up with.

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