Luise Guest’s Half the Sky is a welcome addition to works on Chinese contemporary art. Amid all the froth of the Chinese art scene, Guest focuses solely on female artists, long overlooked and under-studied, presenting the work and thoughts of some thirty artists.
If you turn to page 105 in this book you will see two extraordinary figures standing and facing each other in a colored albumen print from 1872. They both have bare feet; one wears a light-blue three-quarter length robe, rather like an elegant silk dressing-gown, and the other a similar one of a darker color, with what looks a little like a skirt underneath. They have rather serious expressions on their faces, and medium-length thick, dark, dry-looking hair. They both have upturned mustaches, rather in the style affected by Kaiser Wilhelm II, although not quite as extreme, and they look as if they’ve been painted on.
A rt has been central to China’s long history and to her core spiritual and intellectual values. However, much of that heritage has either been destroyed or it is now kept outside the country. Most of the onslaught has long been self-inflicted, deliberately aimed at China’s own cultural legacy, from the Tang dynasty’s iconoclastic reaction against Buddhism around the year 845 that led to widespread destruction of temples and statuary, to the devastating Taiping Rebellion (1850-1864), or the mayhem of the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976).