Rising Dragon

The eyes of the world seem to be on Chongqing, where politics, corruption and art exist side by side. It was the municipality governed until recently by Bo Xilai, a prominent Chinese party official who was high up in the succession chain before his wealth and political ties became a notorious issue in the Chinese hierarchy. As well, he has been the center of a political intrigue in which his wife has been accused of murder. Also connected to  Chongqing is Zhang Xiao, a former newspaper photographer in this city, whose work provides a visual commentary on the price of progress in China.  His series on Three Gorges, a major new dam built to stem the flow of the Yankze River, depicts the displacement and destruction created by the project.  He is one of 36 photographers working in their homeland, whose sometimes raw and complex images excite and startle viewers at the exhibition Rising Dragon at the Katonah Museum.

Zhang Huan is another internationally celebrated artist whose performance-art-based photographs present a China steeped in tradition and ritual yet confused and uncomfortable with societal changes. Take for instance his identity quest which greets visitors to the museum. In a progressive series of self portraits, his face is covered with calligraphy which finally morphs into a face completely obliterated by black paint as the day ebbs and ends.

Many images in the show deal with today’s China and the conflict between its rigid Communist legacy and its future as a modern economic power – a transformation that is taking place with rapidity and social unrest and with the accumulation of wealth by party leaders on the back of economic prosperity.

Referencing the work in the catalog, curator Miles Barth says, “I see it as organized chaos. It’s like China itself – a mass of humanity going in every direction at the speed of light.”

All of that makes the show timely, powerful, deeply thoughtful and gutsy. These are artists who are giving us a rare view of the tumultuous transformation of China, which is born out in the news by acts of violence, vision and daring – one of which is playing out as I write. Mr. Chen Guangcheng, a blind Chinese human rights advocate, considered a dissident in his own country, has arrived safely in the United States after years of forced imprisonment and a daring escape. The thing that struck me most about the exhibition is the sheer bravery of the Chinese artists as they depict the volatility in their homeland through some of the most amazing images that take the art of photography into a new realm.  It is a must-see!

Photo: Zhang Huan, Family Tree, 2000


Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,