Artist O Zhang experiments with what, at first glance, appear to be erotic or otherwise risqué subjects but in reality are evolving, trenchant visual commentaries on women’s place in a Chinese society in great flux.
The daughter of a Chinese couple whose intellectual prowess and English scholarship brought them into collision with the Cultural Revolution, O Zhang demonstrates inner strengths that she’s beginning to employ in her exploration not only of womanhood in post-Deng China, but also the problematics of the West’s encounter with that change.
As vocabulary O Zhang has used nudity, sensuality entwined in piles of female hair, male or female genitalia, interplay with role playing children, guile, innocence and historical ironies.
Of some recent work she describes how she drew on Chinese erotica depicted by orientalist Robert H Van Gulik’s books which in turn drew on Ming Dynasty sources, notably Hua Ying Chin Chen (Variegated Positions of the Flower Battle) but many other texts.
After showing her work at the Royal College of Art, where she graduated this year, O Zhang is taking her work to the wider world, one of her chief unspoken missions being to change, perhaps irrevocably, at least some of the western discourse on the place of women in Chinese society.
Women comprised the backbone of the great silent dance of forbearance and resilience during the upheavals of Cultural Revolution and the government/party backlash most infamously represented by the short-lived 1989 uprising. Yet the Chinese women’s contribution to the general protests on and off university campuses is often not fully understood or represented in public consciousness. O Zhang hopes to rectify that somewhat through her multidisciplinary work, increasingly moving toward photography, film and video. ©Sajid Rizvi