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Bates College Museum of Art photography exhibition depicts China in transition

Focusing on the impacts of urbanization and industrialization in China, a nationally significant exhibition of documentary images by Chinese photographers opens at the Bates College Museum of Art with a lecture and reception at 5 p.m. Friday, Jan. 16, 2004.

Documenting China: Contemporary Photography and Social Change was curated by Gu Zheng, an expert in documentary photography and associate professor of journalism at Fudan University, Shanghai. Gu offers the opening lecture in Room 104 of the Olin Arts Center, 75 Russell St., which is also the museum building.

The show runs through March 28. The museum is open to the public at no charge.

Documenting China showcases the work of seven photographers, including Zhou Hai, whose exhibition The Unbearable Heaviness of Industry was reviewed by The New York Times in August 2003. Depicting people at home, at work and in public, the Documenting China images are fresh, blunt and compelling.

In her preface to the exhibition catalog, Bates President Elaine Tuttle Hansen writes, “The exhibition introduces a new and critical generation of Chinese photographers to American audiences while it raises vexing questions about the impact of urbanization on societies and individuals.”

In addition to Zhou Hai, participating photographers are:

  • Liu Xiaodi, a painter by training who shot his “Village” series while he was a student doing fieldwork;
  • Jiang Jian, director of the photography department at the Henan Institute of Art, Zhengzhou. He specializes in photographing peasants in their homes in central China;
  • Zhang Xinmin, who concentrates on peasant immigrants in China’s cities;
  • Luo Yongjin, who depicts the city of Luoyang, formerly a grand imperial capital and now a middling industrial city;
  • Lu Yuanmin, who documents the impacts of China’s Reform era on middle class domestic life in the booming city of Shanghai; and Zhou Ming, who captures Shanghai street and nightlife scenes.

The seven will donate their images from the exhibition to the Bates museum’s permanent collection. Museum Director Mark Bessire, pointing to China’s considerable and still-expanding role in international politics and the global economy, says that “in 50 years these photos will be unique in recording China at the millennium.”

“They’re very important to our collection because we now have seven different artists’ work that records the cultural and economic changes that have been influencing China for the past 10 years,” he says. “Rather than just one point of view, we get seven.”

At 7 p.m. Friday, Feb. 6, Gu is joined for a conversation titled Chinese Art Explodes Onto the Scene by Wu Hung and Christopher Phillips, curators of New Photography from China, an exhibition to be presented next summer by the International Center of Photography, New York City.

Documenting China appears next at the China Institute in New York City from June 24 through July 23, 2004.

China is a growing presence in Bates’ visual-art offerings, from a site-specific calligraphy installation by Xu Bing in 2000 to next summer’s major exhibition by the artist Wenda Gu. Two displays of photographs taken by Bates students in China and Tibet during the past semester open simultaneously with “Documenting China” at two locations, the Chase Hall Gallery and the student-run Ronj coffeehouse.

Gu organized Documenting China in collaboration with Bates College Museum of Art staff and two faculty members, Assistant Professor of Chinese John Yu Zou and Associate Professor of Economics Margaret Maurer-Fazio, chair of the college’s Asian studies program. Gu will work with Professor Zou this winter in his course “Chinese Culture and Agrarian Society,” as well as with students in photography and economics.

Gu is vice president of the Asian Society of Photographers and the author of several books, including The Practice of Modern Photography in the 20th Century (Industrial Publisher, 2002); Chinese Perspectives on Western Cityscape (Liaoning Fine Arts Press, 2002) and The Nude in Retrospect: 150 Years of Photography (Guangdong Traveler’s Press, 1999). He has won numerous national photography awards in China, including the prestigious Ministry of Culture Gold Medal.

He co-curated the first Asian Photo Biennale, Seoul, in 2002, and chaired the 2001 Yipin International Photography Festival, Shanghai. His doctorate is in cultural anthropology from Japan’s University of Osaka.

Funds from a four-year grant by the Freeman Foundation supported the production of the four-color catalog and Gu’s residency at Bates this winter. With offices in New York City and Stowe, Vt., the Freeman Foundation was created by AIG Insurance Company co-founder Mansfield Freeman to promote better relationships and understanding between the United States and the countries of East Asia. In December 2001, the foundation gave Bates a four-year, $400,000 grant intended to enhance and energize the study of Asia and Asian culture across the curriculum.

The Bates College Museum of Art is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday, and is closed for major holidays. For more information, please call 207-786-6158.

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