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  China: Insights

Curators: Gu Zheng and A. D. Coleman
Concept | Dates & Length of Tour | Contents | Corollary programming | Costs | Catalogue

This exhibition brings together the work of seven photographers from mainland China: Chen Yuan Zhong, Hua Er, Jia Yu Chuan, Li Nan, Yang Yan Kang, Yu Haibo, and Zhang Xinmin. While earning their livings as either freelance or staff photographers (or, in one case, as a freelance writer), each has undertaken the creation of a long-term documentation of one or more aspects of Chinese culture that he or she feels reflects something vital about China now -- whether that is something emerging or something vanishing.

Collectively, these photographers have numerous publications, exhibitions, and awards to their credit, but little of their work has appeared outside mainland China. None of these projects has yet been seen in the west.

Six of the seven -- Chen Yuan Zhong, Hua Er, Jia Yu Chuan, Yang Yan Kang, Yu Haibo, and Zhang Xinmin -- are based in Shenzhen. Just across the border from Hong Kong in southern China, Shenzhen was the first of the Special Economic Opportunity Zones established by China in the post-Mao era, as magnets for entrepreneurs and educated people in all fields. Already a world-renowned center for printing and information technology, among other industries, Shenzhen was a fishing and farming community with a population of roughly 20 thousand in 1980. Today it is a booming 21st-century metropolis whose population exceeds 13 million, with an average per-capita age of 30. As such, it serves as a microcosm revealing many of the dramatic shifts in contemporary China. The exhibition's organizational structure moves from the rural scene to the metropolitan context, echoing developments in China today.

While some of these photographers focus on aspects of life in their home city, others look at situations outside of Shenzhen. Their themes include rural Catholicism, matrilineal culture in an agrarian setting, the population shift from country to city, prostitution, gender and identity, typologies of urban citizenry, and the emergence of a thriving pop music/club scene as an index of internationalization. They approach their subjects employing methods ranging from classic modernist documentary to more formally experimental styles. Intended for presentation in college and university contexts, among other possible venues, this exhibition's images and texts make it relevant to such diverse disciplines as visual anthropology, sociology, urban studies, economics, geopolitics, Asian studies, and of course contemporary photography and visual culture.

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Exhibition Calendar
North America
Norman, Oklahoma Fred Jones jr. Museum of Art/University of
April 18th to early June, 2008
Charlotte, NC The Light Factory January 15 to March 29, 2009
St. Louis, Missouri May Gallery, Webster University 26 February - 26 March 2010
Cedar Rapids, Iowa Cedar Rapids Museum of Art October 8 to December 31, 2010
Claremont, California Montgomery Art Center/Pomona College Museum of Art January 18 to April 17, 2011
Coral Gables, Florida Lowe Art Museum, University of Miami Nov. 11, 2011-  Jan 15, 2012
Details to come.

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The show consists of 150 framed prints, plus an assortment of books, magazine articles, and other publications by the photographers suitable for vitrine display, and relevant media programming. The exhibition and accompanying catalogue include the following sections, equally divided among the seven participating photographers:

• Faith of a Village: Yang Yan Kang. A freelance editorial and commercial photographer, Yang Yan Kang has pursued several long-term, self-funded projects. These include studies of Tibetan life and the project excerpted here, a scrutiny of life in a small Catholic village in the Yellow River area of Shaanxi province of north China. Yang has visited this area repeatedly over the past decade, familiarizing himself with the ways in which these people's religious convictions – presently tolerated, previously oppressed – weave through their daily lives. (Yang, born in Guizhou province in 1954, is a member of the French picture agency VU. In 2001 and 2002 he was named one of the ten best photographers in China by She Ying Zhi You magazine.)

• Mother to Daughter: Hua Er. As an independent anthropologist, Hua Er has concentrated her attention on a matrilineal culture of long standing, a rare phenomenon in Chinese society. Located in Lijiazui, a village situated between Tibet, Yunnan province, and Sichuan province in southwest China, this clan-based matriarchal social structure removes men from any direct involvement with their own children, shifting their familial roles to emphasis on their relationships as uncles to their sisters' children. The marginalization of men and the empowerment of women are the main themes of Hua's study. (Hua supports herself as a freelance writer on assorted subjects.)

• Country to City: Zhang Xinmin. In China's booming economy, escape from the drudgery of peasant life to the metropolis and the dream it represents of upward mobility has become increasingly possible, but undependable. Zhang Xinmin, long-time staff photographer for a Shenzhen newspaper, has persistently tracked the transition from country to city of working-class Chinese, most of them former farmers and agricultural workers, revealing the details of their individual struggles for survival and success in this new environment. (Born in 1952, Zhang is now Visual Supervisor for the Shekou News, a daily in Shenzhen, a position he assumed in 1994.)

• Young Pros, Oldest Profession: Chen Yuan Zhong. Easily policed in the countryside, prostitution becomes a fact of life in urban settings everywhere. In a city like Shenzhen, where residence permits require legal employment, prostitutes and pimps (and their customers) play a risky age-old game of hide and seek with the authorities. Chen Yuan Zhong here follows the trail of this illicit trade from the streets and the daily life of sex workers through police raids, the court system, prison, and efforts at rehabilitation. (Born in 1970, Chen is Picture Director for the Shenzhen Evening News. In 1998 he was selected for participation in the month-long Joop Swart Master Class at World Press Photo in Amsterdam, the Netherlands.)

• Bending Gender: Jia Yu Chuan. Urbanization has brought to China's citified population personal and social options not readily available in rural contexts, including the creation of such microcultures as the transvestite-transsexual community of Shenzhen that Jia observes sympathetically in this series. His pictures investigate his subjects' private lives, their process of self-transformation, and their self-presentation in public. (Born in Chongqing Municipality in 1961, Jia graduated from the Journalism department of Wuhan University in 1999, and now works as a staff photographer for a Shenzhen newspaper group. He has won several national awards for news photography.)

• Urban Identities: Li Nan. Like August Sander, Li Nan concerns himself with social types in China's cities. And like Neal Slavin, he seeks meaning in the ways that people present themselves publicly in groups. In this series of formal, posed group portraits Li surveys clusters of city dwellers -- from chicken pluckers to Party officials, and from construction workers to opera singers -- consciously registering their appearances for posterity in his images. (Born in Jinan City, Shandong province in 1961, Li Nan is a staff photographer for the Dazhong Daily. he has won many awards both inside and outside China, including first prize in the Art category from World Press Photo in 1996.)

• Night Moves: Yu Haibo. Staff photographer for the Shenzhen Economic Daily, Yu Haibo also pursues his own photographic interests when not on the job. In this suite of dramatic color images he explores the contemporary pop music scene in Shenzhen, with its rock musicians, club kids, mosh pits, and riotous environments -- an increasingly common feature of urban culture worldwide. (Born in Henan in 1962, Yu won the China Photojournalists’ Golden Eye Prize and the second prize in the Arts and Entertainment category from the 2005 World Press Photo Awards in Amsterdam, the Netherlands.)

There will be approximately 120 linear meters of wall space needed for this exhibition. All the catalogue texts, captions, bio notes, etc., will accompany the exhibition as digital text files for easy use in the production of wall labels, accompanying brochures, etc.

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Corollary programming
All the photographers, and the two curators, are available to travel to host venues to give lectures, contribute to panel discussions, visit with classes, and otherwise participate in ways that enrich the exhibition's impact on its audiences.

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A participation fee will be requested from each institution to help cover the expenses of organizing the exhibition. Each venue will be expected to share in the expenses of transportation and transportation insurance on a pro-rated basis. Estimated costs are available upon request.

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The catalogue, in Chinese and English, will be produced by Flying Dragon Cultural Enterprises, Ltd., of Hong Kong, and published under the imprints of Flying Dragon and FEP Editions. Co-publishing opportunities for trade editions are available in the countries where the exhibition will be seen.

Specifics for the catalogue are expected to be the following:
Size: 25cm x 31.3cm. 160 pages. 150 black & white and color illustrations in duotone and quadri. About 60 pages of texts.
Primary texts will be by A. D. Coleman and Gu Zheng. Project descriptions and image captions by the photographers, with biographical and bibliographical notes on each.
Retail price is yet to be determined: approximately $20-25 USD softcover.

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Biographical Information on Curators

Born in 1959, Gu Zheng is a photographer, critic, historian, curator, and educator. Associate Professor in the School of Journalism at Fudan University in Shanghai, he serves as Vice-director of that university's Research Center for Visual Culture. He has been in contact with American photography since the middle of the 1970s, when he resided in the U.S. A long-time friend of the historian of photography Beaumont Newhall, he studied under him at the University of Albuquerque in 1979. Gu has published numerous books of his own writings on photography, and in 2001 received the Chinese Photography Golden Figure Prize in Theory and Criticism. In 2001 and 2003 he was honored with Art Critic Awards from the Association of Chinese Literature and Art. Additionally, Gu has translated into Chinese many texts on photography, from classic to postmodern. He has curated several group exhibitions of Chinese photography for venues in in China, South Korea, and the United States.

A. D. Coleman is a prolific writer of photography history and criticism who has published widely since the 1960s. Born in 1943, he is based in New York City. During the 1960s and 1970s, Coleman was a regular columnist for the Village Voice, Popular Photography, The New York Times and Camera 35. His books include The Grotesque in Photography (1977), Light Readings: A Photography Critic's Writings (1979), Critical Focus: Photography in the International Community (1995) and The Digital Evolution: Photography in the Electronic Age, Essays, Lectures and Interviews, 1967-1997 (1998). Curatorial projects include "Testimonies: Photography and Social Issues" (Houston Fotofest International 1990) and SAGA: The Journey of Arno Rafael Minkkinen (FEP, 2005, co-curated with Todd Brandow). He received the first Art Critic's Fellowship ever awarded in photography by the National Endowment for the Arts in 1976, and a major Hasselblad Foundation Grant in 1991. A Fulbright Senior Scholar in Sweden in 1994, he received the prestigious Kulturpreis der Deutschen Gesellschaft für Photographie (The Culture Award of the German Photographic Society) for 2002.

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© Copyright 2006 by A. D. Coleman. All rights reserved. By permission of the author and Image/World Syndication Services,

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