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by Mulan Gallery
Location: Mulan Gallery
Artist(s): SHI Wei
Date: 9 Jun - 10 Jul 2012

Mulan Gallery is proud to present Spellbound, an exhibition showcasing Chinese artist Shi Wei’s acclaimed series of works. The exhibition will run from 09 June to 10 July 2012. The exhibition opening is scheduled on 08 June 2012 at 7pm.

With its reform and liberalisation, Chinese society has undergone tremendous changes in the past few decades. Instead of valorising labour as the sole worthy object of pursuit as in the past, its women are now turned towards consumption, fashion and desire. In the tradition of the painting of women, as pioneered by Tang dynasty master painters such as Zhang Xuan and Zhou Fang in the history of Chinese art, Shi Wei’s work holds up women as icons of beauty that reflect the prevailing aesthetic fashions of the age, and reveals the impact of contemporary social changes on the worldview of women in China.

Shi Wei’s works present a record of the social conditions and values specific to women of this age, and are an attempt at recording the indefinable anxiety and uncertainties faced by modern young women in China – despite and perhaps as a result of their newly acquired social and economic freedoms.  In his works, as opposed to the traditional coy or bashful posture, the female body is portrayed as open and unadulterated, often displaying a hint of sexiness towards the viewer – sometimes hesitant, sometimes outright blatantly suggestive, sometimes contradictory – their thin, visually distorted bodies reflecting their unrelenting pursuit of thinness as the dominant fashion or social trend. Sometimes barely clothed and striking provocative poses, their very modern sexiness, tinged with a morbid palette, comes across as lifeless and cold. Each painting portrays a different content and temperament: some show happiness; some anguish, while others express utter indifference; each a representation of the lifestyles as well as the ideas and ideals of modern women.

More ghostly than human, these women, possessed by an externally mediated desire towards a never-too-thin body and commercial definition of modern beauty, seem to be caught up in a cycle of a paradoxically chimerical and always temporary and unsatisfactory fulfilment of this desire. For the women in these paintings, consumption has created a new form of oppression. As consummate consumers caught up in the beauty myth, their everyday actions are often dictated by an uncontrollable urge to consume to excess in their aspirations to the beauty ideal as espoused by fashion and media iconography and representations – be it the perfect body or unreserved sex appeal, aspired to through clothing, makeup, plastic surgery or unhealthy practices such as purging or starvation among those afflicted by eating disorders. What is up for show is a brand of sex appeal engendered and endorsed by images of celebrities and models in the movies and on TV, and in PR photos, editorial fashion spreads and the media.

Utterly contemporary and unyieldingly honest, these paintings might first strike us as being familiar, not a far cry from the provocative images, videos and profile pictures we may see of young women on the internet. Whilst women may be traditionally held up as icons of beauty in the history of Chinese art, the sickly pallor and twisted proportions of the women in Shi Wei’s paintings conversely convey a grim image of ill-health, a symbolic reminder perhaps of the diseased collective soul and sickness of desire at the heart of materialistic society. Inspired by the fashion industry and using technology, Shi Wei conjures up distorted images containing uneasy juxtapositions and disjuncture, and serves up an uncanny reflection on the issues and costs of living in a modern, consumeristic society.

About the Artist:

Born in 1965, Shi Wei (China) is known for his ambiguous oil paintings, in particular the Skinny Beautiful Women series. In his paintings, women are depicted as skinny and holding erotic poses, which places the meaning of beauty under scrutiny. Are these women beautiful and happy, or are they suffering and paying a price for their vanity? These are just some of the social questions put forth by the artist. Shi Wei received an M.A. from the Hubei Academy of Fine Arts in 1997, and is currently an Associate Professor at Beijing City University. He has been widely exhibited in museums and galleries in China, Hong Kong and Indonesia since 1999.

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