We all love quizzes. Let’s start with naming some notable feminist artists. The Guerrilla Girls, Cindy Sherman and Frida Kahlo will not be surprises. The second question—which Chinese contemporary artists are the fastest names to swing to mind? It is hard for one to miss blockbuster names such as the “laughing” artist Yue Minjun and the painter who is worth a million, Zeng Fanzhi.
What if we come to Chinese contemporary female artists? Suddenly the examination seems to be much harder. In fact, this group of artists has only begun to gain international spotlight recently with the exhibition Fire Within: A New Generation of Chinese women artists, shown in the Broad Art Museum of Michigan State University from August 2016 to February 2017. To grasp the idiosyncratic traits of the women art collective in China, an inspection of the work by Yu Hong (b.1966), the past Venice-biennale painter, would be a solid starting point. Similar to the minimalist style of another Chinese leading female sculptor, Xiang Jing, the art of Yu is characterised by the brushstrokes of female painters with natural intimacy and obvious tenderness. Xiang interrogates her internal relationship with the traditional means of painting. Her recent work, ‘Youyuan Jingmeng (2015)’, translated as “haunting dream in the garden wandering”, was composed of 19 canvases in odd dimensions and shapes, breaking through the physical limitation of the canvas to induce unlimited space for imagination to the viewers.
Yu’s harmonious colour palette and the delicateness in illustrating body movement stand in stark contrast to the intensive expression of her male counterparts in China. Their works are seen as more context-driven and boldly ambitious in new form creation, while the art of Chinese contemporary women artists is often reminiscent of the subtlety of classical Chinese ink painting and pottery sculptures.
Feminist topics such as stereotyped status and inequality are some heated themes often explored by most successful female artists in the West. Their searing social accusation coincidentally echoes with the lofty political curiosity of the Chinese men artist. Yu and her peers, nevertheless, show a slightly diverted interest.
One consistent focus of the female artists in China is the sensitive relationship with oneself and fragility of humankind. The early monochromic self-portraits of Yu not only reveal the struggling self-perception of young ladies in the post-80 era in a playfully pop approach, the self-reflection indeed injects a tinge of romanticism to the conceit of female artists.
“The macro environment in which one grows up largely determines the destiny of oneself. What we can do is only the slight adjustment in between. “This is the motto of Yu which has constantly been quoted in different media interviews. This unique group of female artists in China to which Yu belongs has been defining a distinctively feminine perspective, yet not limiting itself to a feminist context. They will in no doubts garner increasing curiosity from the art world and sooner or later, the phrase “Chinese contemporary female artists” will no longer remain as an enigmatic conundrum.