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Art Discussion Group - Malta



Photography Exhibition Documenting the Lives of Contemporary Chinese People

by E. V. Borg

This is a very special, possibly unique exhibition - a document that researches the social revolution that swept China in the last 40/50 year span in 74 images by Chinese photographers. An incredible transformation, a silent revolution inspired by the Reform and Opening-up Policy started in December 1978. The change is not only incredible but astounding.

The exhibition tangibly illustrates the plain changes in people’s daily life in a simple but profound manner. There is a thinking mind behind the choice of images, a thought process that vividly demonstrates an overwhelming development in fashion, housing, infrastructure, education, entertainment, housing, transport and consumer goods. The introduction to the exhibition aptly describes it. ‘Past dreams have turned into beautiful memories and beautiful memories continue to inspire new dreams’. The exhibition facilitates the understanding and comprehension of the Chinese dream to reach out, to open up with great enthusiasm and curiosity.

A female client buys a new sofa in 1986 instead of old wooden chairs but does not have the means to transport it to her house. She hires a rickshaw. She sits on the sofa placed  on the rickshaw and is driven to her house. Other images illustrate a man buying a sewing machine in 1980; wearing a tie for the first time in 1983; using the first camera in 1986; the first mobile appearing on the street in 1992 and the first black & white TV sets bought for average income homes in 1981.

Certain images are related. A school in a dark cave in Shaanxi Province in 1980 is transformed into a proper school in 1990 to be turned into a beautiful college in 2011. The cave was initially so dark that the pupils preferred lessons in the open. The miraculous change occurs in a span of 30 years.

The images bring out vividly the transformation brought about by the agrarian revolution that pushed primitive methods into oblivion by mechanized and automated changes. It shows a great leap in agrarian methods. The same dramatic changes can be followed in education, in wedding ceremonies from receptions in the home to what are known as ‘nude-weddings’ which first appeared in 2008 over the internet that simply refers to a frugal marriage.

The exhibition illustrates the change in buying scarce commodities by government issued tickets in 1985 to paying by mobile in 1992. In culture, a flamenco dancer entertains in 1992 showing influence creeping in of foreign concepts and vision, to a group of children from Sudan visiting China to learn acrobatics (2005), to ballroom dancing in parks, to singers in parks instead of not affordable karaoke in lounge, to a fad for Tai Chi, to group exercise in a department store. Ethnic minority women from mountainous regions are seen boarding a plane for the first time. Two women drive to their office job in an open car while a high-speed train shoots ahead like a bullet.

In consumer goods practical things change to status symbol buying of pedigree dogs presented on the roof of a car (1993), to fashionable diamond and jewelry items bought by obscenely rich customers (2010). The exhibition also includes modern equipment that took the place of old gadgets allowing the social story to unfold pleasantly and uninterruptedly.

E. V. Borg

27. 09. 17