Lei Yan 雷燕, whose artistic practice was shaped by a decades-long career in the Chinese military, began a period of transition through participation in a 2002 restaging of the Communist Red Army’s 1934 Long March as a multi-sited international art project. Her resulting encounter with US feminist art icon Judy Chicago raised questions about the potential neocolonial influence of global feminist art. The work Lei subsequently produced performs an autoethnographic excavation of the sociohistorical categories—woman soldier, military artist, and woman artist—that made her as both artist and woman. She works from within a national representational corpus, subjecting it to various experiments to reveal the fields of violence it has enacted from the Sino-Vietnamese War to the Great Sichuan earthquake. Lei Yan’s meditation through photography upon national, revolutionary iconography evolved into soft sculpture objects in cloth and paper. Their arrested ephemerality decenters the human subject, drawing attention to haunting absences in conventional stories of art, feminism, and nation. In comparison with the monumental work of Ai Weiwei 艾未未, who also created pieces in response to the 2008 Sichuan earthquake, Lei’s art serves not to admonish but to bring back into consciousness lost lives and camouflaged histories.
Camouflaged Histories: Lei Yan as Chinese Guerrilla Girl
Sasha Su-Ling Welland is associate professor of gender, women, and sexuality studies at the University of Washington. She is the author of A Thousand Miles of Dreams: The Journeys of Two Chinese Sisters (2006) and Experimental Beijing: Gender and Globalization in Chinese Contemporary Art (2018).
Sasha Su-Ling Welland; Camouflaged Histories: Lei Yan as Chinese Guerrilla Girl. positions 1 February 2020; 28 (1): 87–119. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/10679847-7913067
Download citation file: