Shortlist | Women Artists in Mainland China

Shortlists offer thematic selections from AAA’s Collection, including overviews and annotations by invited contributors. The following Shortlist by independent art historian Jane DeBevoise focuses on women artists practising after the end of the Cultural Revolution.


Image: Cover of exhibition catalogue for <i>Century Woman</i>.
Image: Cover of exhibition catalogue for Century Woman.

Comprising only a small fraction of Asia Art Archive’s large and diverse collection of publications about women artists in and from Asia, this Shortlist focuses on women artists practicing inside Mainland China during the three decades since the end of the Cultural Revolution in 1976. These thirty-plus years have witnessed dramatic socioeconomic and demographic shifts—as the country lurched from a mostly poor, centrally planned agricultural society determined by rigidly interpreted communist precepts, to a mostly prosperous, still-centrally planned urban society determined by fierce competition and capitalist logic. Yet despite these dramatic shifts that propelled China into a global superpower, its political system has remained more or less constant, with power concentrated in a Communist Party that discourages public dissent or individual activism. For this reason, self-organised feminist activities are often regarded with suspicion and sometimes censured.

Divided into two sections, this Shortlist begins with a selection of reference books that offer historical and critical contextualisation of the development of art made by women, including a broad range of practices, from painting and sculpture to installation, video, and performance. These reference books and articles are written by key historians and critics, including female writers Tao Yongbai, Liao Wen, and Xu Hong; and male authors Jia Fangzhou, Gao Minglu, and others.

The number of group exhibitions dedicated exclusively to art by women has expanded significantly since the mid-1990s, catalysed at least in part by the United Nations Fourth World Conference on Women that took place in Beijing in 1995. A selection of exhibition catalogues is listed in the second section, including expansive presentations organised by government-controlled agencies and hosted in national museums, as well as smaller events organised by independent curators working with alternative and one-off venues. Catalogues of exhibitions taking place outside China are also included in this section.

Yet despite the significant and expanding number of publications dedicated to art by women in China, women artists are still under-represented in general exhibitions of Chinese art. For example, the highly visible 2017 exhibition of Chinese contemporary art, Theater of the World at The Guggenheim in New York, included only eight women artists from Mainland China compared to fifty-seven Mainland Chinese men. However, that women artists represented 12% of the total Mainland Chinese artists in the exhibition must be considered progress. Twenty years earlier, an equally visible show Inside Out—which opened at the Asia Society and P.S. 1 in New York and travelled to San Francisco MoMA and the Hong Kong Museum of Art—included only three Mainland Chinese women compared to fifty Mainland Chinese men, or 6% of the total Mainland Chinese artists in the show.

The discourse in China about feminism, and by extension feminist art, is layered and evolving, providing a source of inspiration for a number of women artists since at least the mid-1990s. While feminism is not the focus of this Shortlist, key issues related to feminism are explored in a number of the publications by curator-critics, importantly Liao Wen and Xu Hong. That said, organised feminist activities, including art exhibitions, remain sensitive in China, exemplified by the banning of the exhibition Cultural Codes of Gender Violence in 2015. The second section also contains Xiao Lu’s candid description of the intention behind Dialogue, her seminal 1989 gunshot performance, which further reveals the challenges, both personal and political, that pervade the environment in which women, including artists, live and work globally.


General Background: History and Criticism

Gao, Minglu. "Chinese Women's Art." In The Wall: Reshaping Contemporary Chinese Art, ed. Gao Minglu, 249–63. Beijing: Millennium Art Museum, 2005. [Simplified Chinese & English] 高名潞,<中國女性藝術>,高名潞,《牆: 中國當代藝術的歷史與邊界》,中華世紀壇藝術館,北京,2005,頁249–263。[簡體中文及英文] EXL.CHN.WRC

Guest, Luise. Half the Sky: Conversations with Women Artists in China. Sydney: Piper Press, 2016. [English] REF.GUL2

Jia, Fangzhou. "Chinese Women Artists of the 20th Century." In Half of the Sky, Werner, Chris, Qiu Ping and Marianne Pitzen, eds., 160–63. Bonn: Frauen Museum, 1998. [German, English & Traditional Chinese] 賈方舟,<二十世紀的中國女性藝術家>,克里斯.維爾納等編,《半邊天》,婦女博物館出版社,波恩,1998,頁160–163。[繁體中文、德文及英文] EX.GER.HSC

Liao, Wen. Contemporary Chinese Art Criticism Series: A Study on Women's Art in China. Changchun: Jilin Fine Arts Press, 1999. [Simplified Chinese] 廖雯,《中國當代美術現象: 女性主義作為方式—女性藝術》,吉林美術出版社,長春,1999。[簡體中文] REF.ZXL

Liao, Wen, “Interview,” Materials of the Future: Documenting Contemporary Chinese Art from 1980–1990, Asia Art Archive, 2007. [Mandarin with English subtitles] RESEARCH COLLECTION 廖雯,<訪問>《未來的材料:記錄1980-1990年的中國當代藝術》,亞洲藝術文獻庫,2007。[普通話,附英文字幕] 研究館藏

Li, Shi, and Tao Yongbai. The Lost History: Chinese Female Painting History. Changsha: Hunan Fine Arts Publishing House, 2000. [Simplified Chinese] 李湜,陶咏白,《失落的歷史: 中國女性繪畫史》,湖南美術出版社,長沙,2000。[簡體中文] REF.TYB

Tao, Yongbai. Contemporary Chinese Women Painters. Beijing: Foreign Languages Press, 1995. [Simplified Chinese & English] 陶咏白,《中國當代女畫家》,外文出版社,北京,1995。[簡體中文及英文] REFL.TYB

Wu, Lizhu, and Suen Meilan. A Collection of Art Works by 20th Century Chinese Women Artists. Beijing: Chinese Archive Publishing, 1995. [Simplified Chinese] 吳麗珠,孫美蘭,《20世紀中國女藝術家美術作品薈萃: 璞玉集》,中國檔案出版社,北京,1995。[簡體中文] REF.CAP

Xu, Hong. The Feminine: Thinking of Art. Nanjing: Jiangsu People’s Publishing, 2003. [Simplified Chinese] 徐虹,《女性: 美術之思》,江蘇人民出版社,南京,2003。[簡體中文] REF.XUH

Xu, Hong, et al. "Feminism and Women's Art." In Contemporary Chinese Art: Primary Documents, Wu, Hung, and Peggy Wang, eds., 193–98. New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 2010. [English] REF.WUH


Exhibition Catalogues

Cui, Guangsha, ed., Cultural Codes of Gender Violence. 2016. [Simplified Chinese] 崔廣厦編,《姦: 性別傷害的文化符號》,2016。[簡體中文] EX.CHN.CCG

Du, Jian. Album of Chinese Women Artists Invitational Exhibition. Beijing: Culture and Art Press, 1995. [Simplified Chinese & English] 杜鍵,《中華女畫家邀請展作品集》,文物出版社,北京,1995。[簡體中文及英文] EX.CHN.ACW

Hou, Hanru et al. eds. Everyday Miracles: Four Woman Artists in the Chinese Pavilion - 52nd International Art Exhibition / Venice Biennale 2007. Shanghai: Shanghai Wenyi Chubanshe, 2007. [Simplified Chinese & English] 侯瀚如等編,《日常奇蹟 (52屆威尼斯雙年展中國館) 》,上海文藝出版社,上海,2007。[簡體中文及英文] EX.ITA.EVM
Huangfu, Binghui, ed. Text & Subtext: Contemporary Art and Asian Woman. Singapore: Lasalle-sia College of the Arts, 2000. [English] REF.HFB

Jia, Fangzhou, ed. Century.Woman: Selected Works from the Exhibition. Hong Kong: Shijie Huaren Yishu Chubanshe, 1998. [Traditional Chinese & English] 賈方舟編,《世紀. 女性藝術展》,世界華人藝術出版社,香港,1998。[繁體中文及英文] EX.CHN.CWS (CLOSED STACK)

Liao, Wen, ed. Women's Approach to Chinese Contemporary Art, 1995. [Simplified Chinese & English] 廖雯編,《中國當代藝術中的女性方式》,1995。[簡體中文及英文] EX.CHN.WAC

Wang, Huangsheng, and Zhu Qingsheng, eds. Self Image: Woman Art in China (1920-2010). Guangzhou: Lingnan Meishu Chubanshe, 2010. [Simplified Chinese] 王璜生,朱青生編,《自我畫像:女性藝術在中國(1920-2010) 》,嶺南美術出版社,廣州,2010。[簡體中文] EX.CHN.SIW

Werner, Chris et al., eds. Half of the Sky: Contemporary Chinese Women Artists. Bonn: Frauen Museum, 1998. [Traditional Chinese, German & English] 克里斯.維爾納等編,《半邊天: 中國女性藝術家展覽》,婦女博物館出版社,波恩,1998。[繁體中文、德文及英文] EX.GER.HSC

Xiao, Lu. Dialogue. Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press, 2010. [English] MON.XIL



Jane DeBevoise is Chair of the Board of Directors of Asia Art Archive in Hong Kong and New York. Prior to moving to Hong Kong in 2002, DeBevoise was Deputy Director of the Guggenheim Museum, responsible for museum operations and exhibitions globally. She joined as Project Director of China: 5000 Years, a landmark exhibition of traditional and modern Chinese art, presented in 1998 at the Guggenheim museums in New York and Bilbao. Her book Between State and Market: Chinese Contemporary Art in the Post-Mao Era was published in 2014 by Brill.




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