New York Times

Published: March 7, 2012

Letter from China
In Art, a Strong Voice for Chinese Women

By that yardstick alone, the Saturday opening of Bald Girls, a feminist art show in the 798 arts district of Beijing, was a tremendous success. Plainclothes officers rushed into the Iberia Center for Contemporary Art shortly before the afternoon opening and demanded the removal of two paintings by Lan Jiny, an artist based in Germany, according to the show’s organizer, Xu Juan.

Feminist art in China, a country where very few women dare say they are feminists for fear of social ostracism, is still a tiny phenomenon. But, in fact, the show on Saturday didn’t need the censorship to have an impact. The artist’s actions were dramatic enough. And what they said was: The world’s attention may be transfixed by a handful of female Chinese billionaires, but the true situation of the country’s 653 million women is parlous.

With two empty spaces on a nearby wall where the offending images had hung (one was a painting of the dissident artist Ai Weiwei, and the other was of Ms. Lan posing as the late Jiang Qing, Mao Zedong’s wife), a crowd of about 100 people watched in silence as the three artists, Ms. Lan, Xiao Lu and Li Xinmo, drained glasses of mixed red and white wine before hurling them to the floor, where they lay in dangerous, shining splinters.

Then Ms. Xiao sat down on a collapsible chair while Ms. Lan and Ms. Li shaved off her hair with electric razors. The spectators pressed forward, gasping, “Wow, that’s intense,” and “I wouldn’t dare do it, would you?”

Ms. Xiao is perhaps China’s best-known female contemporary artist, who attained worldwide fame in February 1989, when she pulled out a gun and fired two shots into her art installation, “Dialogue,” at a Beijing exhibition. The act — inspired by disappointment in love, she has said — seemed to eerily presage the gunfire that began on June 4 that year, when the army killed hundreds of civilians, ending months of pro-democracy demonstrations in Tiananmen Square.

Her straight, hip-length hair came off like floaty strands of seaweed. Next, Ms. Li’s gleaming bangs and waist-length hair fell to the floor, adding to a growing black pile. Lastly, Ms. Lan’s hair tumbled off in big, shoulder-length curls. Bald as three Buddhist nuns, they stood up and smiled at the crowd, which clapped, part admiring, part appalled.

The next day, at a one-day forum in a seminar room next to the exhibition, the artists explained why they did it. “We wanted to declare in a public place that we are feminist artists,” said Ms. Xiao. Going bald was a show of defiance against traditional Chinese standards of female beauty, which, importantly, include long, glossy hair, she said. “In China today the problem of women’s rights is very, very serious,” said Ms. Xiao.

“We did it to express our innermost feelings,” said Ms. Li. “Because in China, no one wants to acknowledge the problem that women don’t have rights. And women don’t want to admit that they are feminists.” Said Ms. Lan: “Some people said shaving our heads was a mistake, that it turned us into men.” “But who says women should have long hair and men should have short hair? I’m not denying my femininity. I love my womanly identity. I wear women’s clothes and high heels,” she said, pointing to her high-heeled boots. “I just don’t want to be placed in a vulnerable social group because of my femininity.” There was a wider context to their action.

The same afternoon that the three artists shaved their heads, on the other side of town, about 2,000 delegates gathered for the opening of the annual session of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, a group of carefully chosen advisers to the Communist government. Two days later, on Monday, the National People’s Congress, or Chinese Parliament, opened its annual meeting, attended by about 3,000 carefully vetted delegates.

Measured against the power of those 5,000 people — mostly men — the three women’s statement seemed hopelessly small. They were aware of the contrast but undaunted. “They are very big and have a lot of power,” Ms. Xiao said. “We are very small and have very little power. But we are chasing power.” “If this society really respected women, there would be more women in positions of power,” she said. “It’s a real, an actual, problem in China today.”

With foreigners dazzled by China’s apparently miraculous economic growth, a narrative has sprung up overseas that Chinese women are doing well because a few prominent women are doing extremely well in business. This viewpoint is illustrated by a recent article in Newsweek magazine: “Amy Chua Profiles Four Female Tycoons in China.”

The artists see it differently. Through history, they said, Chinese women who prosper virtually all have a husband next to them from whom they borrow essential social capital — masculinity. Ms. Chua appears to concede this, writing that “some might point out” that nearly all her interviewees “got an extra boost from their successful and well-connected husbands.” Said Ms. Lu: “No matter what female hero you look at in Chinese history” — singling out the Tang dynasty empress Wu Zetian; Sun Yat-sen’s wife, Song Qingling; and Jiang Qing — “at their side they all had a very powerful husband. And only by using their husband’s power did they realize their goals and influence. In China, women don’t have their own power that truly belongs to them.

“So women and men really aren’t equal,” she said. “I think Chinese women’s liberation will depend on each woman taking power for herself, really for herself, and not with a man. And only in that way will Chinese women gain equality.”

The exhibition, which features paintings, installations, sculptures and photographs, runs through April 3.






女性主义艺术在中国仍然是一个非常另类的现象。在这个国度,由于怕遭到社会排斥和报复, 只有极少数女性敢公开承认自己是女性(权)主义者。但事实上,周六那天开幕式如果没有“有关部分”的审查管制”的话, 即使是让人叹为观止的艺术家行为艺术也还不够使这次展览赋予足够强烈的戏剧性。“秃头戈女们”说:世界的注意力都一直集中在中国的少数女富豪身上,而653万名女性真实情况却是十分令人担忧的。

展览厅的墙上,由于两件作品被强行取下, 人们看到的只是两面空墙。(一幅作品因为画持不同政见艺术家艾未未,另一幅则是蓝镜扮成江青的自画像。)肖鲁、李心沫、蓝镜三位艺术家在 一百多观众众目睽睽之下,豪饮红白混合葡萄酒后,将酒杯摔碎投到地上。那些破碎的酒杯玻璃碎片看上去熠熠发光,让人感到有点害怕。


肖鲁 — 也许是中国当代最知名的女性主义艺术家。1989年2月在北京中国美术馆的中国当代艺术大展上,她向自己世界著名的装置作品“对话”连发两枪。这个由于失恋而产生的行为艺术作品却奇异地预示着另一种枪声:同年6月4日,军队以向数百名平民开枪来结束持续数月的天安门广场民主示威运动。


“秃头是对于过度看重长发、秀发作为女性外部特征的中国传统女性美学标准的颠覆 ,” 肖鲁说:“当今中国女性问题仍然十分严重。”

“我们这样做是为了表达内心的感受,”李心沫说。 “因为在中国,没有人敢承认妇女性没有权利的事实。女性自己也不想承认自己是女权主义者。“

蓝镜说:“有人说我们剃头是一个错误,是想变成男人。”“问题是;谁说女人就应该留长头发,男人留短发呢?我从不否认我的女人价值,也爱我的女人身份和特点。我喜欢穿女服、高跟鞋,“她说,指着自己的高跟靴。 “只是不愿意由于女性性别认同而成为弱势群体而已。”

“戈女们”这次行为艺术真正的大背景:三位艺术家头剃头的当天下午,在北京城的另一端,正在开所谓的“ 两会”。 2000名经过共产党政府精心挑选的代表在京参加一年一度的政治协商会议开幕式。


两会的代表加起来共5000人,但却几乎全是男性。 与之相比, 三个女艺术家的声音似乎极度微弱。艺术家们当然知道力量对比悬殊,但并不示弱。
“他们非常有权,并且也非常强大,肖鲁说。” “而我们则寡众。但我们仍然要争取获得应该得到的权力。““如果这个社会真正尊重女性,那么更多女性将获得地位、掌权,”她说。 “这是今天中国急需解决的一个现实问题。”


我们的秃头艺术家们对此的看法却正好相反:在中国历史上几乎名女人都有一个有权势的丈夫,她们说,这些女人可以借用丈夫的权势作为社会资本来实现自己的人生价值 。

蔡女士似乎也承认这一点,并写道:“她所采访过的女性之丈夫都有广泛社会关系的特殊资源。”吕女士说:“中国历史上的女英雄” – 无论是唐代的武则天、孙中山之妻庆龄,还是毛妻身边都有一个有权有势的 丈夫。正是这些男人使她们的个人目标得以实现,并以此获得自己的社会影响力。因此,中国女性还没有真正属于自己的力量。

伊比利亚当代艺术中心举办的《秃头戈女》展包括 绘画、装置、雕塑和图片,到4月3日截止。