‘Pornographic’ art storms the Beijing art world

The Exhibition for Nominated Young Artists in Asia, held in the Today Art Museum in Beijing, took place last week, bringing together the work of young artists from across the continent. This exhibition involves at least 150 artists who are mainly from China and Korea, spanning a wide variety of art forms, including categories such as ‘Photographic Art’, ‘Voice of Art’, ‘Platform Art’, and ‘Doll Art’.

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One of the most striking pieces was a series of photographs by an artist from Beijing, Chao Cao, whose hyperbolic and erotic style surprised the majority of audiences and committee members. His photograph, ‘Tutti’ (seen in bottom right), shows two naked women, one ‘playing’ the other, in a visual imitation of a cello performance. Cao explained that his inspiration came from one of the girls, who had suggested that they go to their apartment, which contained a piano and cello. “These elements were unexpected at that moment, and then everything occurred” he said. Cao’s work is controversial in China, but this makes it more memorable; some of the audiences have attacked it as ‘pornographic’, though the sponsor of the exhibition, Yang Song, has recommended it on his blog.

Cultural traditions and perspectives in China place limitations on artists. The artist Ai Wei Wei has been repeatedly arrested and persecuted by the government for expressing political opinions and critiques in his artwork. Similarly, the government has harshly criticised numerous pornographic art shows, which creates public resistance to the art form, and restricts artists. Therefore, the display of ‘Tutti’ in a professional exhibition at a public museum represents a significant advance in modern Chinese culture.

Chao Cao is a modern Chinese photographic artist, born in 1988. He attributes his inspiration to his “fascination of [the] female naked body and [his] sexual desire.” Even on a cursory glance through his previous work, it is not difficult to see that his photographic subjects are almost always naked female bodies. Speaking specifically about ‘Tutti’, he said “this picture is from my Menstrual item, which means that each month I choose different girls to take pictures.”

His art reveals intimate parts of the female body, though he stressed that he does not consider the art itself to be the final product; rather that the mutual understanding and feeling between the photographer and models is the ultimate aim. He believes the relationship between them to be more like lovers; “it is a romantic dating [sic]. When I took pictures with girls, I would fall in love with them”, adding that “because of love, I could put the most beautiful side of [the models] in my sight, then I would provide the most beautiful pictures for them.”

Cao places greater importance in the enjoyment of the creation process than the appreciation of the viewer, and tries to remove the “unreal cover” of beauty. He feels that traditional forms of beauty are becoming increasingly commodified in modern society, and tries to present ‘true’ forms of beauty, which come from “sincerity”, rather than what the audience might want to see. Chinese artists are pushing the boundaries of convention, and it is artists like Cao who are contributing to a new, positive cultural revolution.


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