The afternoon of the opening ceremony, Gallery Director Wang Yi Gang, with facile interpreter Michael good-naturedly working through the difficult concepts, set up a conversation for our US-based delegates and Chinese artists and professors. We wondered where, if the two men had not been present and if we had had more than the 2+ hours allotted, the conversation would have lead. Still, Wang Yi Gang came across as an enlightened supporter of the need for women artists to work together, to understand each other and advance their work.
At first, the focus seemed to be on the differences in our cultures. The Chinese artists seemed a bit baffled by the number of our works that addressed inequality and violence against women. As with Mao's quote that formed the basis of this project, women in China are expected to contribute equally and, at times, the Chinese artists spoke as if their lives as artists were more equal to Chinese men than the situation in the US.
With further questioning, they spoke of the extreme challenge of trying to balance work and motherhood and that the work of women artists in China is seldom documented. When pressed, they could only name one Chinese woman artist who had received historical acclaim. Our activist work seemed to make them somewhat uncomfortable, but, again, we wondered if, in private, we would have a more open exchange about this.
We were asked about the diversity in our delegation - the number of young and older members from different ethnicities and backgrounds and there seemed much interest in the purpose of our organization. There did not seem to be any collectives or women-only organizations to support artists in China.
As the conversation neared to its scheduled conclusion, the conversation warmed to less formal questioning and answering and we were left with the impression that doors had opened for all of us for deeper understanding of each other and a strong curiosity about learning more.
The opening ceremony was scheduled for mid-morning, but when we arrived at the gallery early to re-check the installation and set up the documentation equipment, many visitors were already carefully and intently viewing the exhibition and discussing it with those around them. Through delegate Mido Lee, who seemed to be everywhere interpreting, problem solving tech issues and filming, I asked Wang Yi Gang, the Gallery Director and Chinese Curator for Half the Sky, if our works appeared to be edgy or uncomfortable for the Chinese viewers. He replied that they were somewhat challenging, but that art that focuses on such difficult issues as domestic violence and rape, opens the eyes of viewers and that is important.
Gallery staff told us they had never seen so many people show up for an opening and our Beijing-based delegate Katie Morton, said that crowds are typically small even at openings for internationally known artists and exhibits in Beijing.
Priscilla Otani and I were asked to stand with the President of LuXun Academy and other dignitaries as Wang Yi Gang spoke first - elaborating on the unprecedented nature of this exhibition of US-based and Chinese women artists and the unique opportunities for these women to share their views of the world. I spoke about the impetus of this project - to build community and find common ground through art, in ways that crossed cultural and language barriers. I said that this project was so much more than the 13 delegates who were together in Shenyang and thanked:
-Wei Er Shen, president of the Academy, for our initial official invitation to create the project
-Wang Yi Gang for the use of the beautiful gallery and for selecting the Chinese artists
-our Co-director Jing Deng
-her friend and the Chinese Co-Curator Zhao Yin Ou, who, together, came up with the initial idea to provide an opportunity for WCA and Chinese artists to exhibit in China
-Yin Ou's mother, who works in the Academy photography department and helped us build the groundwork
-Xiao Ke, a gallery staff member, who ran down answers for our many questions
-our delegate leaders, Rosemary, Christine and Sandra
-our artists, essayists and jurors
-and the many volunteers who supported us back in the States
Priscilla talked about the history of WCA and its roots in activism and the UN.
There was much applause and excited interaction with artists and participants when the official opening ended. After so many months of work and unknowns, our delegation was beginning to feel great satisfaction.
The entire delegation dined together for the first time on installation night, April 14th, in our private dining room in the International dormitories at LuXun Academy. Food was provided by the master chef, who would delight us with expertly prepared regional foods during our entire stay, and Elana and Alli, who brought items to share with us as they lead a modifies Seder dinner in celebration of Passover. The Jewish holiday's themes of liberation and freedom reflected many of the artworks of both the Chinese and US based artists in our exhibition and were meaningful to our multi-cultural delegation, each of whom shared something of their personal history related to these themes. This relaxed time together after the intensity of the installation work provided another level of connecting.
HTS delegates began arriving in Shenyang on April 11th, staying at hotels in the area before beginning to round up the last installation items on the 12th and moving into the dorms at LuXun Academy. They were greeted by friendly and helpful gallery and administrative staff. Rosemary Meza-DesPlas, our Installation Director, lead her team in unpacking shipped works on the 13th and created a detailed and thoughtful plan that was accepted almost in total by the gallery director Wang Yi Gang. On the morning of the 14th, gallery staff were still de-installing the previous exhibit, which meant a very long day for our installation crew, who were joined by the remaining delegates. As pieces started populating the walls and floors, Wang Yi Gang and many of the gallery staff members began smiling and sharing with us their excitement about how all of the works - the Chinese and those from the US - were creating an impressive exhibition. It was exhausting work in the reduced number of hours we had to install, but with much cooperation, we completed it by dinner.
Three of our delegates were unable to travel with us - Jill Waterhouse, S A Bachman, and Audrey Chan - hdue to family and personal health issues. Audrey had planned on helping us blog. Blogging became difficult due to very challenging internet connections. Even with. VPNs, the intermittent and overused servers prevented reliable access. Our documentation crew continued to focus on photographing and video.
Director, Half the Sky: Intersections in Social Practice Art
After more than a year of planning, our delegates start arriving at LuXun Academy in Shenyang in just 5 days! Over 40 women and a handful of men have worked together to make this happen: artists, essayists, delegates, steering committee members, jurors, LuXun Academy staff, and other WCA volunteers. We are continually grateful to those who donated to our Indiegogo campaign. We truly could not have done this without their generosity. We head to China with much gratitude and hope and are excitedly anticipating being all together for the first time as a delegation and making connections with the artists there.
Please check out our new web page about the Cultural and Community Interactions activities we will be offering there. We will be videotaping, photographing and writing in order to create an in depth documentation of this unique event when we get back to the States. In the meantime, we will share bits of our experiences of you here on this blog.
Director, Half the Sky: Intersections in Social Practice Art
This blog documents Half the Sky: Intersections in Social Practice Art, a cultural exchange and exhibition created by the International Caucus of the Women’s Caucus for Art and in partnership with and at the LuXun Academy of Fine Arts, located in Shenyang, Liaoning Province, China from April 15-30, 2014.
Delegates of Half the Sky: Intersections in Social Practice Art will post and comment on this blog.