KIA Exhibition Opening: How to Return? Contemporary Chinese Photography

Posted: November 12, 2014
Source: Katie Houston
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A new exhibition will open at the Kalamazoo Institute of Arts (KIA) Saturday, November 15. Entitled How to Return? Contemporary Chinese Photography, it is the first of three contemporary shows the KIA is presenting during the 2014-15 season by artists originating in China, Korea, and Japan. Wired and Wrapped: Sculpture by Seungmo Park opens December 20, and Redefining the Multiple: 13 Japanese Printmakers opens January 17, 2015.

"We have crafted a season that reflects how global contemporary art from East Asia has become," says Director of Collections and Exhibitions Vicki Wright.

The exhibition was curated by Michigan native Steve Harris, owner and operator of M97 Gallery, Shanghai. He says of the exhibition, "(Chinese) society has seen through the veil of glittery consumerism and all it promised, and now artists and thinkers are looking in many ways how to return to find what's left of their roots."

The show presents contemporary images of the Chinese people and environment, both urban and rural. Reflecting tradition and change, the works offer social commentary by photographers who have gained international recognition for their work: Adou, Huang Xiaoliang, Liang Weizhou, Song Chao, Luo Dan, Lu Yanpeng, and Wang Ningde.

Of the photographers in How to Return, Adou and Luo Dan are perhaps most recognized for their work documenting the ethnic minority groups in China - Adou, the Yi from Sichuan Province and Luo Dan, local villagers in Yunnan Province.

Song Chao, a coal miner and photographer from Shandong Province, emerged on the international stage after producing an impactful series of portraits of his fellow coal miners during the period 2001-2005. Painter-turned-photographer Liang Weizhou depicts the industrialization and post-industrialization of the water towns and countryside around his native Shanghai. Huang Xiaoliang and Lu Yanpeng present composed and landscape images of delicate and dreamlike quality, and Wang Ningde's conceptual images explore the tension between modern China today and memories of the Cultural Revolution in his iconic series Some Days, for which he achieved international acclaim.

"Through the lenses of some of China's most acclaimed photographers, this exhibition offers us exceptional insight into the tensions between reality and memory, venerable traditions and modernity, and time and timelessness while prompting contemplation and emotion within each of us," says KIA Executive Director Belinda Tate.

While the emergence of photography in China has somewhat paralleled the emergence of digital imaging, not all artists have made that leap. Some work in early traditional methods of glass plates and darkrooms, but each of the artists brings his own approach and sensibility to the stories told. Some images look historical, while others' surreal qualities echo the speed of change in recent Chinese history.

The use of photography as a medium of artistic expression in China is a fairly recent development, according to Harris, who says it was not until the late 1990s that photography emerged as a fine art form, rather than a vehicle for Communist Party propaganda. Now, with expanding artistic freedom and the exploration of Western approaches, Chinese photographers are showing more conceptual and experimental work, using photography as a documentary response to the modernization of China and a market economy.

Michigan native Steven Harris has been a resident of China since the 1990s, after studying photography and journalism at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. Having worked in various sectors of the photography industry for 15 years, he feels that a photograph is best experienced in person. His gallery in Shanghai is one of China's first and largest dedicated platforms for art photography. Harris has become an expert on Chinese photography, bringing to Shanghai international standards for the presentation and preservation of photographs.

How to Return? Contemporary Chinese Photography is organized by the Dennos Museum Center, Traverse City Michigan, in collaboration with M97 Gallery, Shanghai. Its presentation in Kalamazoo is supported by the KIA's Joy Light Fund for East Asian Acquisitions and Exhibitions.