The five-star flag of the People’s Republic of China was designed with the idea of each star representing a revolutionary class: the working class, the peasantry, the urban petty bourgeoisie, and the national bourgeoisie. The fifth and largest star represents the Chinese Communist Party, suggesting that it unifies all four classes.
Yet, as the exhibition I Am the People at White Rabbit Gallery attests, China today faces huge economic and social disparities between the urban and rural populations, with ethnic minorities often feeling the brunt of this. In Sydney, 28 contemporary Chinese artists are addressing these inequities, questioning the limits of a class society and how the individual can make themselves seen and heard amongst the crowd.
While I Am the People focuses on the working class and manufacturing industry in China, it’s taken a few years to develop. “The idea was refined after I read a short novelette, Folding Beijing, by economist and award-winning science fiction writer Hao Jingfang,” says curator David Williams.
“Her dystopian megalopolis is split into rigid spaces and timeframes where people of different social classes and occupations inhabit the same city, yet they lead separate lives. It was a nice idea to see how the class structure in China (and globally) has changed since the inception of the CCP [Chinese Communist Party] in 1949.” This stratification in the novelette belies the urgent social and class questions pertinent to I Am the People.
The title of the show comes from an exhibiting piece, a video work by Li Xiaofei that interrogates the porous boundary between self and the other. Xiaofei has a long-standing practice of documenting the lives of the working class in factories and other industries across China. Six of his video works are being exhibited in I Am the People.
Other pieces range from painting to photography, from film to sculpture. “The artists are utilising incredibly varied practices and media to explore the divide between the social classes from the poverty stricken to politicians, labourers and ethnic minorities, to clubbers and cowboys,” says Williams.
Among the exhibiting artists are Hailun Ma, a young Xinjiang photographer who documents her Uyghur and Urumqi neighbours; Ge Hui whose vibrant paintings are being exhibited for the first time; and Shyu Ruey-Shiann, who is displaying his evocative and melancholy installation Rivers of Childhood.
The spirit—and studio—of Margaret Olley lives on
A new exhibition at Tweed Regional Gallery has preserved the relocated studio of Australian painter Margaret Olley, with her work providing inspiration for a new series of paintings by Mirra Whale, India Mark and Laura Jones.
Yhonnie Scarce’s glass works are a glistening, poignant exploration of how nuclear testing affected First Nations people
Yhonnie Scarce, a Kokatha and Nukunu artist, has emerged in recent years as one of Australia’s most significant contemporary artists. Yhonnie Scarce: The Light of Day, at the Art Gallery of Western Australia, curates a survey of significant works by Scarce from the last few years.
Must-sees at this year’s Melbourne Art Fair
With over 60 booths presenting, this year’s Melbourne Art Fair doesn’t centre glitz or glam, but glimpses into sci-fi, realism, vibrant colour and Indigenous connections to land. Our editors have rounded up their top picks.
Art Guide Editors
George Byrne creates a synthetic reality
George Byrne’s artwork has an otherworldly quality to it, blurring the lines between natural and artificial through photography, collage, and digital manipulation. His latest exhibition, Synethetica, is now showing at Olsen Gallery.
Art Guide Australia
Fairing well: Melbourne Art Fair is back
With art fairs nationally posting record results in 2023, this week’s Melbourne Art Fair is now a yearly summer fixture. With over 60 galleries and Indigenous art centres hosting solo showings, this year’s theme is Ketherba/Together.
Janet Fieldhouse is moving from clay to bronze
The first Torres Strait Islander artist to show in the National Gallery of Australia’s sculpture garden, Janet Fieldhouse gifts us her deep affinity for sculpture.