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September 21, 2018

'Above Ground' art exhibit showcases feminist activism in China

January 11, 2016

'Above Ground' art exhibit showcases feminist activism in China

Special section

The Institute for Research on Women and Gender, Department of Women's Studies, Stamps School of Art & Design and the Lieberthal-Rogel Center for Chinese Studies are hosting "Above Ground: 40 Moments of Transformation," a photography exhibition highlighting the powerful, ground-breaking performance art and actions of China's Young Feminist Activists.

The exhibit is curated by Lü Ping, a Chinese feminist organizer and visiting scholar at Columbia University who first organized the exhibit in New York City in fall 2015. The exhibit will open Jan. 26 with a reception and commentary by Lü Ping at 4 p.m. in Lane Hall. The public is welcome.

The selected photographs capture a wide range of performance activism staged by Young Feminist Activists in China since 2012. Through their creative actions, they seek to raise awareness around gender discrimination and the violations of women's rights in China — from domestic violence to inequality in higher education. Their guerilla theater-style tactics have attracted international attention, successfully engendering a handful of policy changes.

On Feb. 14, 2012, three volunteers dressed in wedding dresses with fake bloodstains protested on a busy business street in Beijing. The signs they held read: “equality then harmony, violence doesn’t belong to this region” and “violence, are you still silent?” This was the first street performance action against domestic violence held in Beijing. (Photo courtesy of the Institute for Research on Women and Gender)

Some of their actions have led to state suppression, most notably the detention of the Feminist Five on March 7, 2015, for planning to campaign against sexual harassment on public transportation.

Due to state-sanctioned restrictions around organizing in China, the group's non-violent performance actions, which often draw police attention, cannot last long. Many of their actions occur in the streets or other public spaces.

While photography and film have both served critical roles in the preservation of their performances, the Internet has magnified and replicated their work, emphasizing the greater impact of their individual actions. The photographs themselves function not only as historical archives, but also important mediums of action.

Many of the images created by young feminists have become the center of controversy and public debate, transforming public consciousness around the sexist and archaic treatment of women that has been historically normalized throughout China.

The Lane Hall Gallery is open Monday-Friday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. For more information, go to events.umich.edu/event/26874.

Ramp and elevator access is at the East Washington Street entrance by the loading dock.