Cui Xiuwen (b. 1970) and Yu Hong (b. 1966) are contemporary Chinese artists whose images of women reflect a complicated gendered perspective. This article focuses on Cui’s Ladies’ Room (2000) and Yu’s Female Writer (2004, from the series She). Both can be construed as feminist reinterpretations of Chinese works of the imperial era that represented idealized female figures from a male perspective. Ladies’ Room, a video that shows behind-the-scenes images of sex workers in a nightclub washroom, brings to mind earlier paintings that depict women in feminine space. Ladies’ Room, however, incorporates multiple female gazes: not only that of the artist but also those of the subjects, who look at each other and at their own mirror reflections. Female Writer, a diptych consisting of a photograph and painting of the writer Zhao Bo, recalls paintings from the “beautiful women” genre. Though both photograph and painting reflect Yu Hong’s point of view, Zhao Bo was permitted to select her photograph, and thus the work engages with both author’s and subject’s gaze. Ladies’ Room and Female Writer both reclaim female subjectivity as they present images of contemporary Chinese women while also grappling with problems of authenticity, the public/private dichotomy, identity, and self-expression.
Defining a Female Subjectivity: Gendered Gazes and Feminist Reinterpretations in the Art of Cui Xiuwen and Yu Hong
Lara C. W. Blanchard is the Luce Professor of East Asian Art in the Department of Art and Architecture and Lloyd Wright Professor in Conservative Studies at Hobart and William Smith Colleges, Geneva, New York. She is the author of Song Dynasty Figures of Longing and Desire: Gender and Interiority in Chinese Painting and Poetry (2018).
Lara C. W. Blanchard; Defining a Female Subjectivity: Gendered Gazes and Feminist Reinterpretations in the Art of Cui Xiuwen and Yu Hong. positions 1 February 2020; 28 (1): 177–205. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/10679847-7913106
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