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DIFFERENCE·GENDER: China’s First Queer Art Exhibition

China’s first ever visual art exhibition on gender diversity—DIFFERENCE·GENDER—was inaugurated in the Civilian Film Studio, Songzhuang Art District, Beijing.

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3rd December 2009 10:56



‘Hiding in a deep alley doesn’t dim a good wine store’s attraction.’

This Chinese old saying probably illustrates quite a bit of the scene on the past Sunday, June 14th 2009, when China’s first ever visual art exhibition on gender diversity—DIFFERENCE·GENDER—was inaugurated in the Civilian Film Studio, Songzhuang Art District, Beijing.

Nearly five hundred attendees ignored the swink of the two hours’ bus ride from downtown and the complicity of following the map that leads to the reclusive venue. They swarmed into this art den, a private yard built of pristine grey bricks and humbly withdraws into the outskirt village leisure far far away from the hustle and bustle of China’s skyscraper booming capital. In despite of the audience’s diversity of age, gender, race, nationality and sexual orientation, their passion for free expression of art was invariable, and that was what turned the opening ceremony into something no less than a fiesta to celebrate the on-going Gay Pride Month in the otherwise gay-pride-impossible Middle Kingdom.

“This is by no means a conventional exhibition. In the first place, the artists come from very different backgrounds. Some are well-known in artistic circles; some are burgeoning students; there is also a farmer-turned-artist, as well as a group of free spirits who will not accept any label. Secondly, these artists have represented a wide variety of art forms, including oil painting, photography, installation, video, sculpture, etc. Moreover, the artworks conveying contrasting ideas on sex/gender are placed side by side. By this arrangement, we intend to make the exhibition a harmonious juxtaposition, through which we hope to communicate our interpretation of its theme: DIFFERENCES of GENDER should not entail a gladiatorial combat, but a serendipitous coexistence in a common world.” Explained Yang Ziguang, the exhibition curator.

As guest artistic director of this exhibition, Cui Zi’en, an evergreen icon of China’s queer filmmakers, gave a brief welcome address to the audience, saying that this is the first time that a queer art exhibition has been successfully held in China. His fans all knew too well what was lying behind this simple indication. In the past many years, as the main organizer of China Queer Film Festival, Cui has met tremendous difficulties from the authority. However, this time, the triumph didn’t arrive all without suspense. Just the preceding day of the inauguration, related authorities paid a visit on the spot and ordered a closedown of this public art show that boasts “improper subject of homosexuality” and some “pornographic” exhibits. It was only due to the cool-headed negotiation and unremitting efforts of the firmly united team of organizers, volunteers, participant artists and even supportive attorneys that the first Chinese art exhibition on gender diversity was saved from miscarriage. “It was the triumph of the younger generation of China’s LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) community. It was the triumph of their confidence to claim for proud exisitance, triumph of their courage to insist on doing what they believe to be right!” Commented Xu Bin from Common Language, a Beijing-based LBT organization that co-organized this event.

 In the summer sun and June breeze, a festive atmosphere brimmed the yard where two of its spacious studios served as the exhibition room and its central lawn as the resting and social area for attendees. A student-looking girl joined one of the herds that dotted the lush lawn. A beer in hand, she nodded in agreement to another young man who expressed his amazement at the exhibits, adding, “I’m straight, I’m an art lover and I’m totally supportive that queer artists should get their works showed without any hindering, since it’s a great realm of artistic expression.” A large tray full of wedges of sandwich was passed to the resting circle by a volunteer. Wiping off the sweat on her brow, she said, “We were expecting around 100 people to show up today, but now we’ve counted almost four times more! The logistic team is working non-stop to make sure that everyone is taken care of. Exhausted? No way! I’m so much encouraged by the large group of people who travelled all the way to the remote corner!” A man rose from the lawn and suggested a photo be taken of this circle of newly met friends. Soon the shutter was pushed, on the same second with other shutters from numerous cameras on the scene, where the beauty of understanding and the harmony of people with differences united in warm embraces.

Article by Karen Liao – Beijing, June 15th 2009

See some photos

Media contact:Common Language

Tongyu (Common Language)