This article offers a chronological survey of the development of women’s art in China between 1990 and 2010. Outlining the historical circumstances that first resulted in the dearth of a female consciousness in Chinese art until the end of the twentieth century, this article touches on the divergent roots of the women’s liberation movement and western feminism, the Maoist era’s negation of femininity, and the lingering patriarchal structure of art institutions. It was only after a series of groundbreaking exhibitions exploring the female psyche in the 1990s that women artists found a space to voice their female subjectivities, and still they struggled to resist the slippery essentialism of a “women’s art” fad. The new millennium saw women artists expanding their thematic horizons, breaching important political and social issues as well as such subjects as ecology, astronomy, gemology, and urbanization, with many forgoing the label of feminist—or even women’s—art. Each sought to transcend the limitations of personal experience and achieve a greater human resonance. This study examines the work of thirteen women artists whose careers are relatively unknown in the English language, ultimately delving into the complex relationships among sex, gender, humanity, and art in contemporary China.
Off the Margins: Twenty Years of Chinese Women’s Art (1990–2010)
Tao Yongbai, an art critic and curator, is a pioneer and leading figure in the subject of women’s art in China. She is the author of Zhongguo youhua 中国油画 (Chinese Oil Painting: 1700–1850) (1988), Huatan: Yiwei nupinglunzhe de sikao 画坛:一位女评论者的思考 (Art Forum: Thoughts of a Women Art Critic) (1995), and Shiluo de lishi: Zhongguo nuxing hui-huashi 失落的历史: 中国女性绘画史 (The Lost History: Tradition of Women’s Art) (2000). Women’s Art in Present Tense, an art exhibition she curated in Beijing in 2008, introduced women artists and their art with unprecedented scale and comprehensiveness.
Elise David is a doctoral candidate in history of art at Ohio State University. She is currently writing her dissertation, tentatively titled “Networks Sketched in Ink: Marketing the Woman Painter Wu Shujuan (1853–1930) in the Shanghai Art World.”
Tao Yongbai, Elise David; Off the Margins: Twenty Years of Chinese Women’s Art (1990–2010). positions 1 February 2020; 28 (1): 65–86. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/10679847-7913054
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