Existence -What the Artists Say

The art of feminism

This post is an overview of the exhibition at the Mezzi bookstore art space in Changsha which opened on May 20th. The exhibition focusses on various aspects of feminist art culture. “We hope that this high quality art collective by sixteen artists will reveal some of the challenges and struggles for women in present day societies ” said curator Zhen Guo who is also a practitioner artist based in New York . “We also hope to unite women of diverse nationalities and ethnicities , promoting the status of women in their respective communities.”


“Just as we think the art of feminism is about to be a thing of the past” said academic advisor Yaxi Guo ” the tragedies women experience are universal as highlighted by Women in the Dark program  presented by the installation by Franziska Greber. ”


Cautions are highlighted by the academic host Leier Ai in the exhibition catalogue, “Many exhibitions by all female artist have the danger of being secular and commoditized” she said “But in terms of language form and concept of feminist art this exhibition has a more progressive exploration of narratives . For example the Pillar of Time  utilizes  concepts of time and symbols and soft materials to construct female narratives. Material  form and techniques are perfectly unified in the Mother  establishing an impressive monument to female existence.” 

Gallery Manager Peng Junyao commented on visitors reactions. ” Many visitors wanted to talk more about the various stories that are taking place in this exhibition whether they are personal or not , whether it is happy or depressing it gives visitors a chance to recall and discuss with their friends. ”


Participating Artists: 

Laetitia Deschemps

Franzisika Greber

Guo Zhen

Xinmo Li 

Yuan Gao

Hayoon Jay lee 

Linlin Li 

Hung Liu 

Monika Lin 

Denise Keele- Bedford 

Tian Tang 

Baoju Wang 

Yinhong Yan 

Qiongfei Zhang 

Radka Hrabovska 

Niamh Cunningham 

Each artist talks about their work………



Laetitia Deschamps, ‘Raised Foot’ 75 x 118 cm, acrylic on paper 2017

Laetitia Deschamps (France)… what the artist says: 

We have to build a feminist culture which can challenge all preconceptions about what is ‘woman’s nature.’ We also need to reconstruct concepts of power such as property and money .

The gestural black acrylic lines spurting out anxious aerial lines forming hybrid life forms with familiar human like characteristics. These anthropomorphic figures carry fragile and vulnerable conditions which is what I am interested in.



Imbalance’ an installation by Franziska Greber at the Changsha exhibition “Existence” 

Franziska Greber (Switzerland)…what the artist says 

WOMEN IN THE DARK is an International Art Project where women ‘at risk’ share their experiences, pains , hopes and wishes by writing on white shirts (or equivalent female clothing) with a red permanent marker. The untold, unspoken and silence are central themes in these kinds of installation. The artwork in Changsha includes 52 shirts written by women from 6 different countries and a book with all the texts, translated into Chinese. Reaching this goal is made possible by collaborating with organisations within the respective country. IMBALANCE Chairs as objects evade their task, grow beyond themselves and show their backs. The courageous and strong statements of women, written on the shirts, crown the imbalance in its vulnerability.



 Zhen Guo, ‘Mother’ 900 x 250cm, textile, 2016

‘PunchBags’ installation by Guo Zhen  variable size 2014-2018

Guo Zhen (USA)…what the artist says :

As long as we live we cannot go beyond our own bodies and neither can we deny our own gender. The female body bears the most basic and primitive suffering of humanity …to perform the greatest creation. In the face of family, career and other choices women’s sacrifice is considered to be justified and common . I believe female consciousness retains the most stubborn truthfulness and the most terrible beauty . Striving for this artistic discourse is the responsibility of contemporary  artists.



  Performance “Forgotten Home’ by Li Xinmo outside the Mezzi complex Changsha  May 20th , 2018 

 Li Xinmo  a still image from video performance “Death of Xinkai River’

Li Xinmo China …what the artist says:

My performance was based on “Forgotten Home”, a poem from Paul Celan… It is green like a mold, it is a home forgotten. I came to this bustling commercial city center from the mountains with moss,green and a huge heavy drop of water. The world begins with a drop of water, it is the origin of all life, it is the womb, it is the archetype of tears, it is the ticking of the clock of time on earth. The background music was a slow but steady tolling bell, a disturbing chime. There was a change in the performance. I took the heavy water drop (balloon) and arranged lichen moss, the oldest of plants existing before animals and humans. I lay on moss and covered the corners of my mouth with this ancient green life. The water contained in the water drop finally split, green liquid, the blood of the plant spilled over my body. Eventually the potted plant grew out of my belly, just like growing out of the earth. At this point the rolling thunder above which began in the middle of the performance has turned to spits of rain . Just as the performance ends the clouds above burst into heavy rain. Everyone is amazed, puzzled , even a little suspicious of the timing with nature. And only I know there is a secret…



Gao Yuan ‘Twelve Moons’ digital print


Gao Yuan (Taiwan China )…what the artist says:


Twelve moons is a series about 12 Chinese mothers, their 12 children, and twelve animals of the Chinese zodiac. The birth year animal is believed to be a determining factor in each persons life. Using the Madonna and Child symbolism I wanted to connect the Chinese society of today with the time of the Italian Renaissance as there with similar gaps in cultural and wealth distribution. I wanted to explore the rapid development of the new China economy and what comes with it: the mothers came from distant villages from all over China and their husbands were low wage workers on construction sites. The children aged between 3-8 months a period of the most rapid physical growth just as the new China emerges from its high speed growth.



Still from performance video Hayoon Jay Lee 

Hayoon Jay Lee (Korea) …what the artist says  

My art (performance video) dwells on the intricate tangle of poverty in the midst of plenty, states of impoverished prosperity and cycles of hope and despair. These states take place on a personal and a political level existing first in the mind, through the body and into the social domain. I use rice as a motif and metaphor, serving as a symbol of prosperity and fecundity of well being in general , essential for life as well as an essential right.      



Li Linlin ‘Who will comfort me’ digital print 110x 65cm 2017

Li Linlin…what the artist says 

My intention is to create a non realistic private space with an illusory narrative. Exploring symbolic elements such as large numbers of nude Barbie dolls, they look graceful yet hold sharp knives , swords or snakes The look downwards from an oppressive height challenging conventional traditions , a social reality , challenging peoples desire for voyeurism.


Liu Hong ‘Fallen Flowers’ oil on canvas 25 x 25cm  2015

Liu Hong (United States)…what the artist says 

Women are the subjects of most my works . There used to be an old folk song in China ‘Within the 18 levels of hell, women are at the bottom’ 三从四德 3 from4 virtues is to tell women before they marry they should obey the father , when they marry they should obey the husband and once he is dead they should obey the child. From birth to death she never has a sense of herself. I want to make a tribute to the anonymous women, although it is a late offering , to allow them occupy the walls of galleries and museums, to have a place in history .




Monika Lin ‘Lacquered’ a series of portraits  nail polish on mirror 50x 40x 4 cm  2014-2018 

Monika Lin (United States)…what the artist says :

In my work I ask questions about gender , beauty and class while searching for ways to make materials speak, so that the materials and subjects create a space for dialogue. In ‘Lacquered’, portraits of manicurists (these are often migrant workers from rural areas working in the major cities) , the portraits are painted with nail lacquer on mirrors to subvert the viewer /subject relationship. To question who are we really looking at and of course the mirrors continue to function as normal reflections of the viewer.



Denise Keele-Bedford 30×15 x8 cm 2016

Denise Keele- bedford  (Australia) …what the artist says : 

A woman is a woman regardless of race , colour, class , culture, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation or physical appearance. My work reflects on discrimination, oppression and abuse of comfort women who are victims of war through inequality.

Silent screams is a symbol of trauma, yet also it is a symbol of strength to endure , survive to support each other and build power to have their voices heard.



Tang Tian ‘Ji Dian preceding 2015 AD”  120 x140 ,120 x 140 cm oil on canvas 2015 

Tang Tian (China) …what the artist says:

The ‘Ji Dian Bi Years ‘juxtaposes two different spaces in time, that of a world where a female surname civilization exists , it is facing at 90 degrees the male surname inherited world .

In the ancient female civilization, women inherit their surnames to continue down the ages but the male has no surname. In the female world women have freedom of reproduction , they are sexually aware and independent and are free to inherit their own surname . The women represented by Ji Dian civilization offers a restoration of the current civilization. (The artist noted that although traditions differ in East and West regarding name inheritance she makes reference to the general global patriarchal culture .)





Wang Baoju ‘Hidden Weapons’ installation , mops, brooms, size variable 2016

Wang Baoju (China) …what the artist says:

Although I have neither bypassed nor emphasized my career as a female artist I regret that I have never studied the theory of art of feminism and so the character of feminism is neither controlling nor guiding my works . The core concern of my work is what is reasonable yet persuasive and if there is clarity of expression. Hidden Weapons  applies tools which women use most in their daily lives. Brooms, dusters and mops have been appropriated as guns, this leads to questions about where is the strength in women’s daily lives? Can the materiality of the feather, cloth, duster be viewed as sharp and resistant? The aim is to suggest the strength of women evolves from daily struggles of life instead of warfare.

Hidden Weapons Wang Baoju link



Yan Yinhong,’Moulin Rouge/Hong Mill’ mixed media , dimensions variable  2018

Yan Yinhong (China) …what the artist says:

‘Moulin Rouge’ Hong Mill ‘1.4m wide and 3.6m high, cubic cylinder 2018mixed media , 120 x200x200cm 2009 Yinhong Yan

I think women experience more repression in life than men and they accumulate energy from that. The work I create comes from this intrinsic energy . My work reflects on physiological gender and the social issues which arise throughout history in societal life .

I have been working with black ink the cuboid format since the early 90s, with different stages of evolvement. These tied up women, trapped in hopelessness are psychological projections of myself , I aim to project a complicated and distorted world . There are also contradicting elements of the world of play ‘Wanshi’ but a threatening seriousness interlaced with this as I carry the name Yan meaning seriousness.




Zhang Qiongfei ‘ Rose of Wilderness ‘ acrylic on paper 228 x 115 cm  2016 


Zhang Qiongfei ‘Bed’ acrylic on paper 185 x 105 cm  2015

Zhang Qiongfei (China)… what the artist says :

Most of the time, I do not intentionally set out from gender perspective in my creations. But when I forget my own identity and cultural background to enter into a relatively free state, I discover that there are unavoidable feminist leanings in my works, such as themes of the body, sex, and children in my paintings, themes of violence against women, the oft-mentioned experience of bleeding in my works, the sense of trauma… I can only respond that these are intuitive expressions of my instincts as a woman. My work focusses on two concepts, the material of existence and that of the imaginary. Both are a personal interpretation my existence and are reflected in the objects I express.




Radoslava Hraovska ‘Life Lines’ Etching & Thread, 80 x 120 cm 2018 Radoslava Hrabovska

Radka Hrabovska (Slovakia)…what the artist says : 

My children are my world, the subjects of my despair, the reason for my exhaustion and absolute happiness. Motherhood teaches me the value of time. Making art is a respite from exhaustion, seeking beauty in the banal, the culmnination of a full human life. The primal nature of the scratched outlines expresses the insurmountable challenges any mother faces  preparing to raise another human being ready to thrive and contribute to a more equal society . (I also work in illustration for children. )



Niamh Cunningham ‘Pillar of Time’ 320x 70cm diam , wool, 2012



Niamh Cunningham ‘Hair Skull’ artists hair, 23,23,25cm 2013

Niamh Cunningham (Ireland) …what the artist says :

During the process of making the Hair Skull I reflect on the potential psychological qualities of using my own DNA as an art material. For example, selecting one strand it for its tensile quality which can hold the shape and occupy space. Another strand is selected for its elasticity, these qualities speak of enduring strength and resilience throughout history even though most women have been written out of history books and museums. More information on artworks


With Yan Yinhong in standing front on the exhibition poster 


Sincere thanks to: curator Zhen Guo for her vision and determination in pulling such an ambitious project together  making a very welcoming and reflective space, Zhang Haixia (chairperson of Bu Gao group Changsha) for supporting this landmark exhibition ,  Wu Xiaobin (head of culture and art BBK Group) and all the people of Mezzi book complex and gallery manager Peng JunYao and manager Yang li Hui.