CIHA 2016 in Beijing

34th World Congress of Art History

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GAO Shiyu
Body as Landscape: The Representation of the Body in Chinese Contemporary Art

Session 8 Art and Taboo

University of Glasgow. 


Body as Landscape: The Representation of the Body in Chinese Contemporary Art

In Chinese art history, the representation of the naked body has been treated as a taboo according to a long-standing historical tradition. This phenomena is due to the complex traditional theories relating to the body in China, which differ from the Western tradition based on Greek culture. However, a large number of Chinese artists utilizing the body have appeared in various forms of art, including paintings, sculptures, photography, video, performance and installation art, since the 1980s. The body represented in Chinese contemporary art has become a social space for various power relations and a site that represents and produces social ideology. My paper investigates how Chinese contemporary artists represent the body, moving from its exclusion as a taboo to including it as a way of presenting the artists' individual subjectivities, national and social identities in the context of globalisation. Through the examination of various contemporary artists, such as Zhang Huan, Qiu Zhijie, Weng Fen, Birdhead, and Lu Yang, I will show that the Chinese contemporary artists’ approaches to using the body represent the Chinese context, in which rapid changes are occurring and directing their individual subjectivities.


Shiyu Gao (高士淯) is currently a PhD Candidate in History of Art at the University of Glasgow. She gained Master of Science inModern and Contemporary Art: History, Curating and Criticism at the University of Edinburgh in 2012 after obtaining her Bachelor of Arts at the China Central Academy of Fine Arts in 2011. Her recent research concernsbody theory, photography in China,Chinese ink painting and contemporary East Asian art. 

She was named one of the Top 500 Artists in China by the National Chinese Art Association of China in 2004 and gained the third Prize of the “Discover and Record” Research Award at CAFA in 2009. Her publications include“Does the 798 Art District Need Beauty?” in Art Magazine in 2010, and “the Representation of the Space in Chinese Painting and Poem” in Journal of Culture and History in China in 2012.

She worked as assistant curator in museums and galleries in both China and the UK, such as the Stills Gallery in Edinburgh, the National Art Museum of China in Beijing, the China Central Academy of Fine Arts Museum in Beijingand the Victoria and Albert Museum in London.