Location: Bowdoin / Asian Studies / Symposia / Symposium

Asian Studies

Female Embodiment of the Visual World: Women's Art in Contemporary China

Female Embodiment of the Visual World: Women's Art in Contemporary China An international Symposium in Conjunction with Art Exhibition at Bowdoin College Brunswick Maine, September 27-28, 2013           

4:30 - 5:30 p.m. Friday, September 27, 2013
Kresge Auditorium

Exhibition Opening Keynote Address
Julia F. Andrews, Professor, Department of History of Art, Ohio State University 
"Women Artists in 20th Century China: A Prehistory of the Contemporary" 

8:30 a.m. - 4:30 p.m. Saturday, September 28, 2013
Beam, Visual Arts Center

As contemporary Chinese art gains worldwide prominence, where are the women artists? Why are they so often absent from academic discourse and scholarly publication? How do women’s art practices figure into critical theory, gender politics, and aesthetics? Why have Chinese women artists refused to have their work identified and defined in terms of feminism, even if they seemingly engage in feminist art practices? In response to these questions, this symposium initiates a platform for considering Chinese women’s art. Leading scholars and critics from Asia and the United States will present and discuss issues that concern artists as well as viewers.  For more information and the complete schedule of the events, please visit bowdoin.edu/asian-studies and bowdoin.edu/art-museum/ FREE.

This international symposium is presented in conjunction with the Bowdoin College Museum of Art exhibition Breakthrough: Work by Contemporary Chinese Women Artists, from September 27 to December 21, 2013.

SPONSORED BY: the Office of the Dean for Academic Affairs, The Bowdoin College Museum of Art, the Asian Studies Program, and the Art Department.


Breakthrough: Work by Contemporary Chinese Women Artists Where is women’s art while contemporary Chinese art has been attracting world attention and market value?  The question takes us to the striking realization that while women artists have been active participants in Chinese art scenes, their contributions have yet to receive serious scholarship. A careful examination shows that art endeavors by women artists are diverse in subject matter and innovative in visual form, integrated with as well as distinguished from art productions both domestic and global.     

The concept of global feminism in the 1990s addressed the “common difference” between women from various cultures, nations, religions, ethnicities, and sexualities (Maura Reilly, 31).  The emerging women’s art in China offers visual representations of gender issues that are nationally specific and of global concern. Unlike their western feminist peers, however, Chinese women artists find feminism as a discourse and feminist as an identity to be unattractive vocabularies. Instead, they concentrate on the search for self-expression and visual articulation from a woman’s perspective.

The 1990s also marked a contemporary turn in Chinese art, where leading artists departed from art traditions of historical continuity and political implications to embrace individual pursuits. The counter-discourse they created, such as cynical realism or political pop, introduced them and their art to the world stage and international art market. Unlike their male counterparts, however, Chinese women artists are interested not so much in political subversion or gender confrontation as in the negotiation of positional difference within rather than against system of gender or sexual relations.     

The works of women artists advance visions that cross disciplinary boundaries and look beyond gender differences.  Viewers discover art practices and representations characterized by a female perspective and aesthetic but that also transcend gendered parameters. Artists have been moving creatively between traditional and modern, historical and contemporary, local and global. In addition, diverse media applications including installation, performance, video work, and site-specific sculpture further enable a transgression across the boundaries between fine and visual arts, between center and periphery.          

The question is how to conceptualize women’s art in terms of subject issues and visual aesthetics. In response to this inquiry, the proposed symposium intends to break new ground by introducing the subject in academic discussions.  Scholars and artists from the U.S. and the abroad are invited to engage in this one-day symposium to explore the subject from different perspectives and through interdisciplinary fields. With “female embodiment of the visual world” as a broad organizing thesis, the symposium will explore how women artists and their works emerge from the art scenes with female agency as well as rhetoric.

Cui Xiuwen, Angel No. 4, 2006
Cui Xiuwen, Angel No. 4, 2006