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by Marella Gallery
Location: Marella Gallery, Beijing
Date: 20 Sep - 30 Oct 2008

What Han Yajuan paints is “her story”, the story of herself, of her own caricature. Whoever knows Han Yajuan through her artworks will be surprised after meeting her for the first time because of the similarity betweem the dolls she paints.
Han Yajuan is not even thirty years old, however her works are already among the most significant of what has been defined as “Chinese cartoon art”.

She seems to be dreamily living in between the clouds, in a world made of frivolities; she is part of a generation that used to live like there is no tomorrow.

Actually, her art thrives, and the artistic and commercial experiences she had in the last few years are amazing. The artist made herself recognized thanks to her first videos that show a technical precision and an artistic originality of strong impact and interest. From these works it was already possible to note that she is very pretentious and inclined to stress things without leaving anything at random. She doesn’t like vagueness; on the contrary, she pursues the details. Han Yajuan is nuts about minutiae and shades that have to be precise and perfect. The hunt of naïve decoration and perfection is also evident in her evolution as a painter.  
I remember when, in 2004, another curator and I visited her studio for the first time to talk about one of her videos to be included in a group show and she shyly asked if we wanted to see her canvases. “Why? Do you also paint?!” was our reaction, expressed with sufficiency and denoted by superficiality.  And yet, the young girl was a painter and it was already possible to discern her inspirations.

Her style, inspired by Japanese cartoons as she states, has been related to a genre labeled as Fashion Pop Art, an offspring of American pop culture’s influences on Chinese art at the beginning of the Nineties. The subjects of her canvases are in fact mischievously posing girls wearing dresses and accessories that bring the signs of the consumerist trends that are upsetting Chinese society. These ‘young women’ seem to enjoy and get all the pleasures of a life without men, a life similar to the complicity and frivolousness shown in some of the situations in the TV series Sex and the City. Everything is about appearance, everyone tries to create his own personality inside a group; however, they risk superficiality and loneliness.
Han Yajuan reinterprets the dynamism and vitality of contemporary China and, in a very simple way, she expresses a social aspect she feels involved in. She was born in the beginning of the Eighties when, partly freed from the Maoist conformism, Chinese people started to discuss and reconsider the role of women and femininity accepting gender differences under an egalitarian point of view.

Identity, rights and social power tied to an evermore economical independence are the themes Han Yajuan faces with not too much rhetoric but with the awareness and lightheartedness of a condition that she finds herself living in, an ‘urban girl’ in a ‘consumerist age’.  Her dolls seem to be interested only in fashion; however they are metaphorical characters that personify a mixture of different tempers. First they seem as sexy and strong as Charlie’s Angels, but at the end they are alone.

In a first phase, Han Yajuan painted Western women as mature and stylish women; afterwards she started to portray Asian girls with more precise details. In a mid-phase style, the design of her canvases presents that of a “cow’s kingdom” with the surface covered by dots and spots like those on a cow’s skin. Her works are thus inhabited by cute cows playing with the young protagonists. In her last works, the young girls are sitting around a table, driving a cabriolet, ransacking the shelves of a boutique, chatting at the hairdresser and spending time in the usual inane daily duties. The peculiarity lays in the point of view from which we look at them, they are painted as if seen from above, from a bird’s eye view, as if the artist was detaching from the subjects, looking at them from above as if she is already grown up and tired of taking part in this kind of pleasant but empty life.

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