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Updated: December 26, 2011 18:46 IST

Framing civilization

Harshini Vakkalanka
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Towering inferno on the Quiet Water, Heavenly City by Yang Yongliang
Towering inferno on the Quiet Water, Heavenly City by Yang Yongliang

The photographs by six Chinese artists — Chu Chu, Liu Yue, Luo Yongjin, Ma Kang, Yang Yongliang and Yan Xinfa at Tasveer’s gallery confirm to the axiom of what you resist, persists.

The exhibition “Chinese Photography Now”, is probably one of the rare glimpses into the thinking minds of one of the oldest, most complex, sometimes most suppressed civilizations that has gone through and continues to go through great transformation.

Parts of the exhibition seem to reflect this suppression and now upheaval of this deeply cultural country. Take Ma Kang, whose large frames and blurred imagery in his “Forbidden City” series are akin to a vibrating tuning fork. He displays this strong suppression, both in “Temple of Heaven” and “Hall of Supreme Harmony”, where its subjects are still reeling from its effects. He has given voice to the forbidden topic of discussion, of the Tiananmen square incident in “Policemen before the Tian’anmen” and bared the omnipresent, lurking figure of Mao Zedong out in “Picture of Chairman Mao”.

His works, along with those of Yang Yongliang probably transcend the idea of photography, as it has become in the days of Photoshop.

Yang Yongliang, through his “Phantom Landscape” and “Heavenly City” series works with the idea of landscapes, replacing the traditional Chinese landscape with the motifs that most obviously depict technological advancement, buildings (to be more specific, skyscrapers). These make up the mountains, while (what appears to be) smoke becomes the clouds.

The “Heavenly City” is made up of buildings, roads and traffic. It floats in a cloud of smoke and spills waterfalls of brown water.

Buildings are important facets in the thought process behind both his and Luo Yongjin’s works. But Luo’s is the more obvious reality of Chinese architecture losing its originality in the face of Western influence. In his “New Residences” and “Fort Houses” series, he shows the erstwhile architecture giving way to a shallow, ugly hybrid.

Chu Chu and Liu Yue explore the more cultural aspects of Chinese life in very different ways.

The quilt, flower and landscape are the only three elements in Liu Yue’s photographs. All these elements, using the quilt as a timeline, and the flower and the landscape as more constant symbols, represent the Chinese cultural landscape. The quit is arranged like a mountain rising up towards the sky. The sky matches the flowers in the quilt, one way or the other, and the whole image is suspended in a circle which sits in a white frame.

Tools become cultural symbols and things of beauty in Chu Chu’s black and white, blown-up photographs of everyday objects — saucepans, hammers, spanners, iron scissors. The ends of these instruments taper into the blurry background. What remains for the viewer to observe is form of the object itself, as a concept that is the result of design.

Yan Xinfa captures the rural landscape of the Henan region in an almost sterile way in his series of works, “People” and “Emperor’s Tomb”. The sculptures or artefacts that constantly appear in his photographs give out a sense of the passage of time and of the flowing history that moulds its landscapes.

What underlines all these photographs is the passion that these issues evoke, giving the viewer a slice of life and of history as it has affected the minds of its makers.

“Chinese Photography Now”, will be on display at Tasveer, #26/1, SUA House, Kasturba Cross Road, until January 4. For more information, call 40535217.

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